ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — It was a start befitting the top-ranked team in the nation.

Top-ranked Ashland connected on its first seven field goal attempts and eased to a workmanlike 81-72 win over the University of Texas at Tyler in the Division II national quarterfinals Monday at the St. Joseph Civic Arena.

“We talked a lot about throwing the first punch,” AU coach Kari Pickens said. “I think it’s hard to come out and play really well to start a game, especially when there are all the jitters that come with playing in an Elite Eight.

“Our girls are really veteran. They may not have been in this experience before, but they’ve played in a lot of big games and I think that really showed with their poise to start the game.”

Ashland (35-0) was especially lethal from beyond the 3-point arc in the opening period. Maddie Maloney connected on three treys in the opening 10 minutes, while Hallie Heidemann knocked down a pair of triples.

“It’s always good to see the first couple go in and see teammates’ shots go in as well,” said Heidemann, who finished with 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting. “It just really got our offense going.”

Tyler (27-8) trailed 22-16 after the first quarter as AU connected on 8-of-14 field goals. The Eagles pushed the lead to 36-29 at the half and opened the third period with a 16-10 run to take a 55-39 lead on Zoe Miller’s layup with 3:28 left in the frame. The Patriots responded with an 11-4 burst to close the quarter and trailed 59-50 going to the final 10 minutes.

“We dug ourselves back,” Tyler coach Rebecca Alvidrez said. “Our defense did a good job, but they just kept hitting at the right time. They always had an answer.”

Ashland kept the Patriots at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter. Tyler trimmed the AU lead to 72-67 on Martina Machalova’s layup off an AU turnover with less than a minute to play, but would draw no closer. The Eagles hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final minute to ice it.

The Eagles committed 19 turnovers, much to Pickens’ chagrin. Tyler scored 22 points off AU turnovers.

“We struggled with turnovers to start the year. As of late we’ve been a lot better,” Pickens said. “They’re a good team and we didn’t take care of the ball particularly well. We had some unforced turnovers, but we still found a way to win.”

Ashland was a torrid 24-for-44 from the field and knocked down 13-of-26 triple tries. The Eagles sank 20-of-24 free throws.

“They are No. 1 for a reason,” Alvidrez said. “They just have so many weapons.”

Annie Roshak led Ashland with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Roshak knocked down a trio of 3-pointers and was 9-for-10 from the free throw line.

Miller had 15 points, including three 3s of her own, followed by Heidemann (14) and Maloney and Savaya Brockington with nine points apiece.

“We shot the ball really well. We took high-percentage shots,” Pickens said. “We need to clean up a few of our defensive errors, but at this point of the season it is totally survive and advance and I cannot be more thrilled that we’re going to be playing again on Wednesday.”

Machalova led Tyler with 18 points. Meagan Mendazona had 13, while Montse Gutierrez added 10.

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