SIOUX CITY — For most of the night, the Montana Western women's basketball team looked like it had a chance to upend the defending national champions. But a late surge in the final minutes put Thomas More within one win of returning to the title game.
Alex Smith drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Saints up by four points with 3:44 remaining and top-seeded Thomas More held on from there to seal a 66-62 win over the Bulldogs in the NAIA national tournament quarterfinals. The win sets up a semifinal between the Saints and No. 1 Central Methodist (Mo.) in Friday's semifinals.
Western ends its season at 28-6 overall, including a tournament win over last season's runner-up Dordt University in Tuesday's Round of 16.
The Saints bolted to a 9 point lead less than midway through the first quarter before Western trimmed Thomas More's advantage to 19-14 after one. The Saints then built a 28-24 lead by halftime.
A triple from Brynley Fitzgerald with 5:18 left in the third quarter whittled Thomas More's lead to 36-35 and the Bulldogs stayed on the Saints' heels into the fourth quarter, where Western twice scored go-ahead buckets to lead by one.
But a pair of free throws from Emily Simon put the Saints up 52-51 with 6:18 remaining and Smith hit a jump shot to make it 63-56 with a minute left and ice the game for the defending champs.
Junior Shainy Mack led Western with 17 points, including three triples. Brynley Fitzgerald, in her final collegiate game, added 14 points and six boards and Jordan Sweeney scored 14 points and hauled in seven rebounds. Redshirt senior Mesa King added six point and eight rebounds.
Smith led the Saints with a game-high 24 points, Simon scored 13 points and Zoie Barth had a double-double with 11 point and 10 boards.