BILLINGS — Most know her as Brianna King.

She prefers Bri.

But one title will never change: NAIA player of the year.

And King lived up to the billing, scoring 39 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime, leading Montana Western past defending national champion Freed-Hardeman 78-71 in the first semifinal game of the NAIA Division I women’s basketball tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Monday night.

“Players make plays,” said Bulldogs head coach Lindsay Woolley of his senior guard.

Montana Western (29-4) will play Oklahoma City for the NAIA national title on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Stars advanced with an 85-70 win over Our Lady of the Lake.

Oklahoma City is going after its NAIA-record 10th national title, the most recent in 2017 in Billings. The Stars defeated the Bulldogs in the second round that year. OCU also won a second-round matchup at the 2001 tournament.

Montana Western becomes the second team from the Frontier Conference to play for the NAIA Division I national championship in three years and first from Montana. Lewis-Clark State was the runner-up in 2017. Montana State-Northern (then Northern Montana) won the NAIA Division II title in 1993.

King was chosen the NAIA player of the year by the WBCA prior to the start of the tournament. The 39 points were one shy of her career-high last year against Menlo at the tournament on the same court.

Teammate Cierra Lamey added a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds Monday.

The Lions (31-3) were led by Haylee Croom’s career-high 32 points and 13 rebounds. Freed-Hardeman was ranked No. 1 in the latest NAIA coaches' poll and the top seed for the tournament.

Monday’s victory was also a measure of revenge for Montana Western, which lost to the Lions 61-50 last year in the semifinals.

“A little,” said King of getting some payback. “It did sting last year.”

The Bulldogs trailed by five, 61-56 with less than 30 seconds remaining. King scored eight of her team’s final 10 points, including a conventional 3-point play to start the comeback.

“Just one possession,” said Woolley of what he told his team in a series of late timeouts. “And we were lucky they missed a couple of free throws. They usually don’t miss. I thought we did a good job of working the clock.”

Trailing 66-63, the Bulldogs had one final possession with 2.1 seconds left. “I told Tony (Nakashima, assistant coach), ‘Draw me up something quick. We’ve got about two seconds,'" Woolley said of the end of regulation.

The play was designed to get King the ball in the right corner or Savanna Bignell out on the wing.

“I got it and shot it,” said King. “I had time enough for one dribble and used it to create some space. I looked and saw the line it was taking. I knew it was good.”

King finished 13 of 32 from the field, including five 3-pointers. She also made eight of nine free throws, had seven rebounds and recorded seven assists.

Five different players scored points in overtime for the Bulldogs, including four from Lamey.

Woolley noticed a difference in his veteran team from a year ago.

“Last year, we were nervous and got behind in the first quarter,” he said. “This year, they were loose, they were ready.”

Eight different players scored points for Montana Western which had 17 assists on 29 baskets. Carrie Hatchel had 14 points and 10, who used only six players. Croom and Hatchel played all 45 minutes, while Chynia Brooks played all but 14 seconds.

“We have six seniors, we knew what to expect,” said King of the rematch with Freed-Hardeman. “This is exciting.”

Oklahoma City 85, Our Lady of the Lake 70

NaShyla Hammons has been here before.

Two years ago, she was a freshman starter for an Oklahoma City team that won the national title. Now she is after her second championship ring.

“It’s exciting,” said Hammons of returning to the title game. “It’s something I feel so blessed that I’m going to get to do this twice. Some players don’t ever get this chance, and I’m so happy to be getting a second.”

Hammonds finished with a double-double of 11 points and 17 rebounds. She was one of four Stars to finish in double figures. Abby Selzer led OCU with 20 points, while Mallory Lockhart had 13 and Brennyn Seagler 10.

Hammons is one of only two players — JoHanna Beathard is the other — back from OCU’s 2017 title team.

“It means a lot,” said Hammons of advancing to the championship game. “Coming from a school where everyone kind of expects us to win, we’ve got to keep the tradition going.”

Our Lady of The Lake (26-7) was led by Destinee King’s double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Patience Okpe added 16, while Mikki Flores and Dezeree White each had 10.

The title game will feature two point guards from Spokane, Washington. King for Montana Western and Michaela Kay of OCU. Kay said the two played against each other for three years during their high school careers.

Tuesday night will also mark OCU ending its season against a Frontier Conference team for a third straight year. Along with defeating Lewis-Clark State in 2017, the Stars were upset in the first round by Providence a year ago.

“It was devastating,” Hammons said of the loss. “That’s why we’re back where we are. Because of last year.”

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Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

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