HPU WBB Hosts Liberty In Battle For First Place

HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University women’s basketball team will play Liberty on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Millis Center with first place in the Big South Conference on the line.

The Panthers (13-7. 9-2) are looking to make it two wins in a row when they welcome the Flames (14-6, 10-1). The two teams met on Jan. 3 in Lynchburg, Va. when Liberty earned a 64-47 win. Now the Purple & White has its chance even the season series and pull back into a tie for first place in the league.

Last Time Out:
HPU used a 21-2 run midway through the first half to race past Coastal Carolina and earn a 73-65 triumph inside the Millis Center on Tuesday evening. The Panthers fell behind early, but a 3-pointer by redshirt-senior Lindsay Puckett and eight quick points by redshirt-senior Stacia Robertson gave the team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Sophomore Kaylah Keys finished the contest with a team-high 17 points and two assists. Robertson posted her seventh double-double of the year with 14 points and 11 rebounds to go with four assists, three steals and two blocks.

Freshman Kat Harris gave HPU a third double-digit scorer with 10 points in 16 minutes off of the bench. Sophomore reserve DeAnneisha Jackson chipped in with nine points as the Panthers earned a 24-7 advantage in bench points.

HPU shot a season-best 94 percent (17-of-18) from the free throw line and hit 45 percent (25-of-56) from the floor. Meanwhile, the team’s defense held the conference’s highest-scoring offense to 65 points and just 36 percent (21-of-59) shooting on the night.

The Purple & White shared the basketball well on Tuesday, racking up 18 assists with eight different players tallying at least one assist. Balanced scoring was also a factor as all nine Panthers that played in the game scored a basket.

The Opponent:
The Flames opened conference play with eight straight wins before being tripped up at Winthrop on Jan. 20. The team has rebounded with back-to-back home wins over Campbell and UNC Asheville.

In its most recent contest, Liberty earned a hard-fought 62-58 win over the Bulldogs in the Vines Center. Junior guard Sadalia Ellis ignited the Flames offense with 17 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. The team shot 50 percent (25-of-50) from the floor, but allowed Asheville to hit 56 percent (9-of-16) from 3-point land to keep it close.

Liberty is one of the most balanced and experienced teams in the conference with 10 players averaging at least 13 minutes per game. Eight of those 10 players are upperclassmen. Redshirt-junior Ashley Rininger is the only Flame playing more than 24 minutes per contest and is producing 11.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per outing.

Redshirt-senior Karly Buer is leading the team with 12.1 points and is shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. Ellis runs the point and is second in the league in assists (4.4/game) and a team-best 2.0 steals per game.

The Flames have great size on the frontline and are averaging a plus-9 rebounding margin. Behind Rininger’s 1.7 blocks per game, the team is blocking 4.9 shots each contest and tallied eight in its previous meeting with HPU.

Panther Notes:

• The Flames hold a 33-13 lead in the series with the Panthers. Liberty snapped a three-game losing streak in the series with a 64-47 triumph on Jan. 3 in the Vines Center.

• Tuesday’s game will feature the Big South’s best offense against the league’s best defense. The Panthers are scoring 69.8 ppg in league play while the Flames are allowing just 51 ppg.

• The offense is shooting at a record pace as well. The team enters the game hitting 42.3 percent of its shots. The Panthers are leading the Big South in shooting percentage and are on pace to best the program record of 41.3 set during the 2010-11 season.

• The Flames are second in the league holding opponents to just 36 percent shooting from the floor.

• The Purple & White have won 15 straight games inside the Millis Center dating back to Jan. 11, 2014. The Div. I record is a 19-game streak from Jan. ‘05 – Feb. ‘06.

• The Panthers are 10-0 at home this season to tie the Div. I era record. The 2005-06 team went 10-0 at home for the season, so a win would break the program’s record.

• Redshirt-senior Stacia Robertson has upped her pace lately. The forward is averaging 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 2.7 steals and 2.7 assists in her last seven games.

• Stacia Robertson ranks in the top 25 nationally in field goal percentage (eighth, .598), blocks (16th, 3.39) and steals (25th, 2.89). The forward is also second in the Big South in rebounding (9.4 rebs/g) and blocks, and is third in scoring.

• Kaylah Keys and Stacia Robertson form the highest-scoring tandem in the Big South. The inside-outside duo is averaging 30.8 points a game. Robertson is third in the league with 15.4 ppg while Keys is fourth with 15.4 ppg.

• Kaylah Keys has hit at least one 3-pointer in 17-of-20 games this season. The guard found her stroke against Gardner-Webb to go 5-of-6 from beyond to arc. She is second in the Big South in 3-pointers made (45).

• The Purple & White is 12-1 when at least three players reach double figures in scoring. The win over Gardner-Webb was the first time this season the team won with two-or-fewer players scoring 10-plus points.

• The Panthers are off to a 9-2 start in conference play, which equals the best Big South start of 9-2 in 2011-12.

• Behind forwards Stacia Robertson and DeAnneisha Jackson, HPU sits at 20th in the nation with 5.6 blocked shots a game. UConn leads the nation with 8.1/g.

Next Up:
The Panthers have a busy stretch coming up with three games next week. The team will travel to Longwood on Monday at 7 p.m. and Presbyterian on Thursday at 7 p.m. before rounding out the week against Charleston Southern in the Millis Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday Feb. 7.