On Saturday, she scored 19 points for the Lady Buffs and had them in contention before Union (Ky.) College pulled away late for a 60-46 championship-game victory at the MeadowView Center.
Milligan coach Rich Aubrey explained that Kiser showed up to practice in jeans Monday and was keeping the clock before getting the call from her doctor clearing her to play.
Kiser had been through the wringer, suffering a list of health problems over the past year — including a heart condition, a damaged ankle and the broken wrist. Out of action the past month, she thought her role Saturday might be a cheerleader from the bench. Instead, she logged over 20 minutes and knocked down 7 of 10 shots from the field.
“It’s such a blessing. My team helped me get four more games my senior season,” Kiser said. “I have reconstructive surgery on my ankle scheduled. It’s been a rough year, but I couldn’t let things get me down.
“I was thinking I would take on whatever role I could. If I was on the bench, just play a few minutes or the whole game, it’s fine. I’m so glad they trusted me to play. I hadn’t done anything in a month.”
Thanks in part to her inspired effort, Milligan led by two points after a quarter and was even at halftime (21-21). Union responded with the first 10 points of the third quarter to put the Lady Bulldogs (26-6) on their way to the tournament title.
Still, the Lady Buffs (15-19) didn’t back down and pulled within four points, 46-42, on Kiser’s 3-point shot midway through the fourth quarter. She ended 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
However, Union closed it out by scoring the next 11 points before Kaely Gose broke Milligan’s drought with a jump shot at the top of the key.
“Energy was an issue and Union has so many weapons,” Milligan coach Rich Aubrey said. “They put the defensive pressure on us all day and we ran out of gas, playing for a fourth straight day. It felt like we had some momentum when Emily made that basket to cut it to 46-42, but that was our last gasp. We fought and fought. We just ran out of fuel.”
LeAsia Linton scored 24 points to lead Union, while Logan Calvert added 15 points. Tournament MVP Brooke Hammonds finished with eight points, 17 rebounds and five assists.
“We played with a little chip on our shoulder,” Union coach Dean Walsh said after his team earned a bid to the NAIA national tournament. “We were picked sixth in the preseason and here at the end of the year, defense has been our MO. We had the run to start the third quarter and then we finished and hit our free throws down the stretch.”
Halie Padgett, an all-tournament selection, came through with 12 points and seven rebounds for Milligan. Gose, also named to the all-tournament team, ended with 10 points and eight rebounds. It capped a big week for Padgett, who scored 26 points on Thursday when the Lady Buffs upset top-seeded Bryan.
“We were underdogs coming into this tournament being the eight seed, so we knew we had to fight and try to win it,” Padgett said. “Winning the Bryan game gave us the confidence we’ve been needing all season. We had pretty good energy other than the final few minutes.”