March 4, 2005
Chattanooga, Tenn. -
Trailing by five with three and a half minutes remaining in regulation, the Western Carolina Lady Catamounts clawed their way back on top and fended off the Wildcats from the free throw line to advance to the 2005 Kyocera Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship with a 59-58 win over second-seeded Davidson.
Western (17-13) will face fifth-seeded Georgia Southern (16-13) in the Southern Conference Championship game at 4:00 pm on Saturday afternoon in The McKenzie Arena.
The Lady Catamounts were led by a trio of seniors, paced by the double-double performance of Jennifer Gardner. She continued to state her case for tournament MVP by scoring 17 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 26 minutes of action. She has tallied 61 points in three games for an average of 20.3 points per game and is 26 points shy of tying the most in SoCon tourney history.
Gardner's frontcourt classmate Lori Tanner added 12 points on the afternoon, two of which came at the 1:28 mark of the second half that put WCU ahead for good. Senior Sigita Maleraite finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and a pair of assists. Junior Teyawna Hardy scored seven points while freshman Chevon Keith continued her possessed play on the boards hauling in nine rebounds in the win and dishing out four assists.
"Once again, I'm proud of our ladies," said head coach Kellie Harper. "We played like warriors today and did what we had to do to win the game. We lost our legs a little down the stretch. We tried to get a substitution pattern going and our seniors fought through the fatigue. Our seniors deserved to win this game."
After taking a seven-point advantage in to the locker room, the Lady Catamounts struggled against a rejuvenated Davidson squad as the Wildcats opened the stanza with a 16-6 run to take a three-point advantage at the 12 minute mark. The lead would balloon to as many as six with seven minutes remaining before Western began a run of its own.
Using five-straight points by Gardner, Western closed to within one, 49-48. But the Wildcats countered with a pair of lay-ups to push its lead back to five with 3:38 remaining in regulation. The Lady Catamounts scored four-in-a-row from the free throw line and Tanner's lay-up to reclaim the advantage, 54-53. Sixteen seconds after finding the bottom of the net, Tanner came up with a huge steal that Maleraite converted into a jumper just inside the 3-point arc that stretched Western's lead to three.
Gardner connected on a pair of charity tosses and senior Ki-Ki Glass scored her only point of the game on one-of-two from the line to push the lead to four. As it would turn out, Western would need Glass' point as Davidson's Jessica Mitchell, who sank the two free throws to defeat the Catamounts earlier this year at Belk Arena, drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to provide the final tally.
"If you lose, you go home. You are out of the tournament," said Gardner. "That's all we've been thinking about. At Davidson earlier this year, we lost at the buzzer. Today, we dug deep and came up with big plays."
Tanner added, "We didn't want this to be the last game for the seniors. It's a tough thing - if you lose, you are done. We did not want that."
Davidson (18-11) was led by 14 points from Janell Crayton, 10 of which coming in the first half. Freshman Danielle Hemerka finished with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Western raced out to a 17-9 advantage in the first half, and led by as many as 10 on two occasions before taking the seven-point lead into the half. The Lady Catamounts out rebounded Davidson 43-37 on the afternoon, 22-15 advantage in the first stanza.
The Catamount Club will hold a reception for all Western fans at the T-Bone's Restaurant on Chestnut Street in downtown Chattanooga from 1:00 pm until 2:30 pm on Saturday. Also, fans wanting to purchase tickets for the championship game in the designated Western Carolina seating area may do so by meeting WCU Assistant Athletic Director for External Affairs Steven Herren outside of Gate 2 at McKenzie Arena on Saturday.