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Monday, Mar. 26 10:07pm ET
Stiles (32) leads Bears back to Final Four


SPOKANE, Wash. – From one side of the continent to the other, Jackie Stiles has lit up the scoreboard and revved up the excitement in the women's NCAA Tournament.

Now she is headed back to Missouri to the biggest stage of all.

Jackie Stiles
Jackie Stiles, who scored 32 points as Southwest Missouri State advanced to the Final Four, was named the West Regional's most outstanding player.

With a lot of help from her friends – especially Tara Mitchem – Stiles brought Southwest Missouri State to St. Louis and the women's Final Four with a 104-87 victory over Washington on Monday night in the West Regional final.

"I can't imagine a better way to end a career," Stiles said. "For it to be in St. Louis, you can't script it any better than that. It's just an incredible opportunity for us. I don't know. I just can't describe right now what this team is feeling."

Southwest Missouri State (29-5) will play Purdue in the semifinals Friday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) in St. Louis, just a 3½-hour drive from the Lady Bears' Springfield campus.

"It's just amazing," Mitchem said. "It couldn't get any better than this. Well, we could win two more games and it would be better."

Stiles scored 32 points despite sitting out 4½ minutes early in the second half and fouling out with 3:25 to play. As she left the court, she drew a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of just under 11,000, nearly all of them Washington fans.

The 5-foot-8 dynamo – the leading scorer in women's NCAA Division I history – led the Lady Bears to their second Final Four and first since 1992.

"We are definitely living out a dream," SMS coach Cheryl Burnett said. "We have incredible leadership. They won at Rutgers, then came out here and beat Duke, the top seed, and Washington on what amounted to be its homecourt. Now, who knows what can happen?"

Stiles scored 73 points in her two games in Spokane to become the first woman to top 1,000 in a season in Division I.

She isn't the only blonde, ponytailed big-time sharpshooter for SMS. Mitchem scored 23 points on 7-for-7 shooting, three of them 3-pointers, and 6-of-6 free throws.

"Words can't describe how incredible my teammates have been," Stiles said. "I feel a lot of times I get more credit than I deserve. They deserve even more credit than I do. Basketball is a team game. It takes everybody to win."

The Huskies thought they did a decent job on Stiles.

"But to have a player like Tara Mitchem step up, that makes it really hard," the Huskies' Megan Franza said, "because you have to focus your defense on a player who scores 30 points a game."

Southwest Missouri State shot 63 percent from the field (35-for-56), including 8-for-15 on 3-pointers in its biggest offensive game of the season.

"They're definitely a team," Washington coach June Daugherty said. "We know that. It's not just Jackie Stiles. I think they can win it all, and I hope they do."

Erika Rante added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Bears. Loree Payne scored 17 for Washington (22-10), including three 3-pointers. Kellie O'Neill added 14, while Megan Franza, Andrea Lalum and LeAnn Sheets each scored 12.

Washington, the No. 6 seed, trailed by as many as 20 in the first half and was down 51-33 at the break.

Stiles missed a layup and drew her fourth foul during a 14-1 Huskies' run that cut the lead to 63-54 on Payne's 15-footer with 13:16 to play.

With Stiles on the bench, the Lady Bears scored the next 10 points, including 3-pointers by Mitchem and Morgan Hohenberger, to boost the lead to 73-54 with 11:31 remaining.

"You never want to see Jackie in foul trouble, but the last thing to do was panic. We had to stay calm, stay relaxed and somebody needed to step up. It didn't matter who did it. We wanted to make it to St. Louis and we weren't going to lose."

Stiles came back at the 9:46 mark, promptly made a 12-footer and a 3-pointer and the lead stretched to 23.

After Stiles fouled out with her team leading 92-75, the Huskies cut it to 92-80 on Franza's two free throws with 2:33 to play, and were down 94-85 on Payne's 3-pointer with 1:20 to go.

But that's as close as it got.

Southwest Missouri State is the only Final Four team that didn't play its first two tournament games at home. SMS beat Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., before traveling to Spokane.

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