2OT the key for Lady Catamounts, Lady Colonels

Updated: March 9, 2005, 10:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Kellie Harper is going back to the NCAA Tournament.

The former Tennessee standout point guard, who was on three straight Lady Vols national championship teams from 1996-98, on Saturday became the first coach in Southern Conference history to guide her team to the Big Dance in her inaugural season.

Harper's Western Carolina Lady Catamounts defeated Georgia Southern 97-95 in double overtime to secure the SoCon's automatic bid. Earlier Saturday, Eastern Kentucky beat Southeast Missouri in double overtime to clinch the Ohio Valley's NCAA bid.

Jennifer Gardner scored a career-high 45 points to lead Western Carolina. Gardner, the tournament MVP, was 15-of-19 from the floor, 13-of-15 from the foul line and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Lady Catamounts (18-13). It marks the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Catamounts, and they had to earn it.

Georgia Southern (16-14) went ahead 95-94 on Fallon Lee's jumper with 32.7 to go, but Gardner scored inside to retake the lead. Then Lee slipped on the inbounds and lost the ball, and Gardner was fouled with 8.7 seconds left.

She made the second of two free throws to seal it, and the Eagles missed at the other end as the buzzer sounded.

Lori Tanner scored 16 points before fouling out in regulation, and Sigita Maleraite added 10 for Western Carolina. Ki-Ki Glass had 14 assists.

Georgia Southern freshman Tiffany Brown had a season-high 27 points before fouling out in the first overtime. Dana Benemon added 22 and Lee DuBose had 14.

Glass sent the game into the first overtime when she tied it at 81 on a basket with 5.5 seconds left. She missed the free throw on the potential three-point play.

The Eagles were ahead by as many as six points in the first overtime, but Gardner scored six in a 7-1 run to tie it at 88 and force a second overtime.

For the third consecutive year, Western Carolina advanced to the SoCon finals as the No. 6 seed. Top-seeded Chattanooga, which beat the Lady Catamounts in last year's final, was eliminated in a first-round upset. Western Carolina also became the first SoCon team that had to play on the first day of the tournament to go on to win the conference tournament title.

With 18 victories this season, Harper already is the winningest first-year coach in Western Carolina history.

Eastern Kentucky captures first NCAA bid of 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Miranda Eckerle had 29 points to lead Eastern Kentucky past Southeast Missouri 84-73 in double-overtime Saturday, clinching the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997.

Eastern Kentucky outscored Southeast Missouri 18-7 in the second overtime. Nancy Hoist's free throws at 4:37 started an 8-0 run for the Lady Colonels (23-7), who extended their school record-winning streak to 15 games after starting the season 3-6.

Eckerle, the tournament's MVP, made 11-of-17 shots and added 12 rebounds. Laura Shelton and Ashley Cazee each had 14 points.

Natalie Purcell had 16 points for Southeast Missouri (22-8), which led 60-58 after Purcell's jumper with 9 seconds left. But Shelton scored on a driving layup with 1 second left to force the first overtime.

Neither team scored in the final 2:14 of the first overtime after Eckerle tied the game at 66.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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