THE TURNING POINT: Ashland began the game with a 21-4 run to set the tone early.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles kept the Pioneers to 17.2-percent shooting from the field.
Ashland University head women's basketball coach Robyn Fralick has said that good defense travels.
Good defense is pretty good at home, too.
The No. 1-ranked Eagles won their 2017 NCAA Division II Midwest Regional quarterfinal on Friday (March 10) night at Kates Gymnasium, topping Malone, 72-40, to advance to their third consecutive Midwest semifinal and their fifth in the last six years.
"I thought we defended really well and rebounded really well," said Fralick, who has won 63 of her first 65 games as a head coach. "The shooting part, we've shot really well (and) that's something that's been a big strength throughout the season, but tonight we relied heavily on our defense and our rebounding, and those are things you have to rely on every night."
Ashland, the only undefeated women's or men's basketball team in Division II, is 32-0, and is one game away from tying the program record for most consecutive wins (33), set from Nov. 13, 2011-March 21, 2012).
The Pioneers' season ends at 23-7.
Ashland kept Malone to 17.2-percent shooting from the floor in the victory, including 12.5 percent in the fourth quarter. The Eagles also forced 16 turnovers, resulting in 19 points.
Junior forward Andi Daugherty led the way with 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals, and in the process, passed sister and current Eagle assistant coach Kari (Daugherty) Pickens for sixth place on Ashland's all-time scoring list with 1,426 career points.
"I thought we came out really prepared and set the tone early," said Daugherty. "It's hard to stay focused; it's something that we need to get better at because as the tournament goes on, we're going to keep continuing to play better teams."
Fellow junior forward Laina Snyder posted a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds), and added three helpers and three swipes. With 861 career rebounds, she moves past Gail Wasmus into third on the program's all-time list.
"With depth comes the ability to do what we did tonight," said Snyder, referring to losing sophomore guard Maddie Dackin early due to injury and freshman guard Jodi Johnson due to early foul trouble. "To sit two of our players that get a lot of minutes, and then you have (sophomore guard) Brooke (Smith) and (senior guard) Rachelle (Morrison) come in and step up and you don't lose anything. That's just why our team has been so successful all season."
Junior forward Julie Worley (13 points) and Johnson (11 points) rounded out AU's double-digit scorers.
The Eagles had a decided 55-37 rebounding advantage.
For Malone, Hannah McCue had eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Ashland raced out to a 21-4 lead in the first quarter, and took a 25-8 advantage in the second thanks to 11-of-18 shooting from the field and a defensive effort which stymied Malone to the tune of 1-of-12 from the floor and six turnovers.
The Eagles' biggest second-quarter lead was 35-8 with 6:19 to go until halftime, but the Pioneers chipped away at their deficit, trailing 39-20 heading into the locker room. In the first 20 minutes, however, Ashland turned 10 Malone turnovers into 15 points.
It was a 53-32 Ashland lead going into the game's final 10 minutes, then came a 17-3 run to put an exclamation point on the victory.
The Eagles are 19-0 at home this season, and 107-11 (.907) in their last 118 games at "The Kates."
"I think the home-court advantage is good for us, but we need to use it as an advantage — we can't get lost in the noise, which I thought we kind of did tonight," Daugherty said. "I think we came in more focused from the beginning (compared to last year's NCAA opener). We have a lot of returners from last year's team, and we want to make sure what happened last year doesn't happen this year again.
"I was proud of our focus, and we'll watch whoever wins the next game and we'll be ready for them."
Earlier on Friday to start the Midwest Regional, No. 3-seed Saginaw Valley State topped No. 6 Lewis, 70-66, while No. 2 Drury defeated No. 7 Bellarmine, 75-57.
UP NEXT: A Midwest Regional semifinal on Saturday (March 11) at 7:30 p.m. at home against Grand Valley State (24-7), a 73-66 winner on Friday night over Ursuline.