ALLEN - With Lone Star Conference Player of the Year Kiara Wright battling through a tough matchup down low, Stephenville product Brianna Bledsoe took center stage at Allen Event Center Friday.
Bledsoe scored 15 points and collected 11 rebounds to lead the TexAnns past Texas Woman's 61-46 in a Lone Star Conference Championship semifinal. Second-seeded Tarleton faces top seed West Texas A&M or fourth-seeded Midwestern State in the championship at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Bledsoe was aggressive offensively all day, driving and drawing fouls before burying free throws, and even stepping out for 3-pointers. That included one deep ball to give the TexAnns a commanding 48-28 lead with 12:22 left, and they were ahead by at least 17 until the final 20 seconds.
It was Bledsoe's second straight double-double after she had 13 points and 10 boards in the quarterfinal round. She has four career double-doubles, all this season.
"Before the game on Wednesday, Kiara said, 'You're really going to have to play good if we are going to keep advancing,'" said Bledsoe. "I took that to heart, all of us did. It was a total team effort."
The TexAnns avenged a regular-season loss for the second straight game after throttling Texas A&M-Commerce 84-55 in the quarterfinals. Tarleton is now 6-1 in three tournaments in Allen. In 2012, the TexAnns won their only tourney title since joining the LSC, and they were eliminated by eventual champ Midwestern last season.
It wasn't like Wright didn't find ways to be productive against 6-6 TWU center Mary Kovtun, the leading shot blocker in the LSC. Wright, the reigning regional player of the year, collected 10 boards while scoring nine points.
"We knew that with the big girl everyone had to step up," Bledsoe said. "We knew that not one person would be able to score all the points and that it would have to be a total team effort."
Kovtun set a single game conference tournament record with eight blocked shots, helping TWU hold Tarleton to a season low 30.4 percent shooting. TWU wasn't much better at 31.8 percent.
It didn't matter with Tarleton dominating the backboards 45-32. The TexAnns had 18 offensive boards including six by Bledsoe and four from backup point guard Raven McGrath. They had 14 second-chance points to just two by TWU.
"For us to get 18 (offensive boards), that's tremendous," said Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne. "We didn't shoot the ball well, but I thought we played one of our best defensive games of the season."
The Pioneers stayed alive until the TexAnns reeled off eight straight points, the second run to culminated in a Bledsoe triple. This time she made it 48-28 with 12:22 left.
The advantage grew to 25 down the stretch. TWU didn't pull within 18 until the final minute.
Tarleton's stifling defensive effort held the Pioneers without a field goal for almost 10 minutes of the first half, and the TexAnn lead swelled from just two points to as many as 14 during the stretch.
Ashley Salazar drove for a runner to cut Tarleton's lead to 11-9 with 12:36 on the clock, but then all the Pioneers scored were six free throws until Kovtun hit a basket in the paint to make it 29-17 with 2:50 remaining in the half.
Tarleton had a stretch of 12 straight points during the ASU drought, five of them by Shanae Lowrance. Bledse hit a 3-ball to conclude the streak.
Rebekah Cluley scored 11 points before the intermission for TWU, and was denied two more after an official review of a fast break layup at the buzzer determined the shot was late and wouldn't count. Tarleton led 33-21 at halftime.
Cluley led the Pioneers with 19 points. She was their only double-digit scorer.
Tarleton is a combined 3-1 against the other semifinalists. The TexAnns swept Midwestern State and split with West Texas A&M in the regular season.
"I think this team is really feeding off these three seniors - Bri, Shanae and Kiara," said Hearne. "They've been here, they know what it's like. They've won the championship and really want to win it again."