THE TURNING POINT: Ashland used a 24-8 run over the final 6:05 of the first half to pull away from Harding.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles set a new program single-game record for points in an NCAA postseason contest.
Ashland University's women's basketball team will play for an NCAA Division II national championship on Friday (March 24) night.
How the No. 1-ranked Eagles got there on Wednesday (March 22) night was very familiar.
In a national semifinal at Alumni Hall on the campus of Ohio Dominican University, Ashland improved to 36-0 and earned its third trip to the national title game in six seasons after a 90-77 win over No. 10-ranked Harding (31-4).
"Really proud of our team's effort," said Ashland head coach Robyn Fralick (67-2). "Harding's a really good team, they play really hard, they compete. It was obviously a game of runs and different momentums. I couldn't be more proud of this team.
"We're really, really excited to play in the national championship game."
On Friday at 7 p.m. at ODU, Ashland will play No. 18-ranked and No. 6 seed Virginia Union (28-4), an 86-81 winner in Wednesday's first semifinal over No. 3-ranked and No. 2 seed California Baptist (35-3).
As was the case in the Elite Eight win over West Texas A&M on Tuesday (March 21), Ashland's All-American junior forwards, Laina Snyder and Andi Daugherty, led the way. Snyder had 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Daugherty posted 23 points and four boards.
"Andi and I are two very big competitors," Snyder said. "We go in with that mentality of that this is what we came here for, and we just attacked it. This is a big spot that we don't want to lose."
Daugherty said, "You come to this stage, you have to be prepared. Three years of experience now, I have complete confidence in Laina and myself to carry this team, and I think we are doing a good job of it in this tournament."
Ashland hit 50 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line in the win, marking the second straight game the Eagles shot at least that well. AU also hit 10 3-point field goals.
For Harding, Caroline Hogue scored a team-high 24 points to go with 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
There have been just five seasons with at least 36 wins in the history of Division II women's basketball, and Ashland has two of them (37 in 2012-13, 36 in 2016-17).
At the 5:34 mark of the first quarter, a Daugherty layup on a feed from Snyder gave Ashland its first lead of the night at 13-11. Neither team could pull away from the other in a high-scoring first, and the Eagles took a 27-23 lead into the second stanza.
The frenetic pace of the first 10 minutes didn't translate immediately to the next 10. With 7:07 to go until halftime, Dackin hit a triple for AU's first field goal of the period, giving the Eagles a 31-25 advantage. Then Peare, who didn't have numbers, went in for an old-fashioned 3-point play and a 34-29 Ashland lead with 5:24 left until the break.
Dackin nearly mounted a run by herself out of the second-quarter media timeout, helping turn a 36-32 advantage into 44-32 with a pair of treys. That run didn't end until it became 14-0, extending Ashland's bulge to 50-32.
"All credit to my teammates," said Dackin. "I was wide-open on all of those."
At the half, the Eagles led the Bison, 55-37, on the strength of seven 3-pointers, 14 assists on 21 field goals and 12 forced turnovers.
A Snyder-to-Daugherty layup early in the third quarter gave Ashland a 60-39 lead, and Ashland went on from there despite a Harding mini-push to start the fourth. Daugherty's top-of-the-circle triple put the Eagles on top 88-72 with 4:18 remaining.
Ashland is 20-5 (.800) all-time in the D-II postseason, and is 7-1 at the Elite Eight. Wednesday's win extends the Eagles' program records for most consecutive wins to start a season (36), overall wins in a row (36) and consecutive road/neutral-site victories (17).
UP NEXT: Friday's national championship game.