ALLEN, Texas – Redemption for the West Texas A&M women’s basketball team was the theme Saturday in the 2014 Lone Star Conference Championship as the top-seeded Lady Buffs downed No. 2-seed Tarleton State 76-67 to earn their league-best 12th LSC tournament crown in school history. Junior Chontiquah White was named Tournament Most Valuable Player.
“It was a slugfest,” head coach Mark Kellogg said. “Tarleton is good, they have a lot of kids who can shoot it. Wright (Kiara) is special in the paint. I thought we did a really good job on her for most of the night, we lost her a bit in the second half and we finally found their three-point shooters in the second half and limited what they could do from there as I thought that kept them in it in the first half. I was disappointed when we got up 14 and we lost some energy as we were only up one at half. I think there is something special, it’s an older group, close-knit and they seem to find a way.”
After a heartbreaking overtime loss in the Lone Star Conference Championship game a year ago, the West Texas A&M women’s basketball team wouldn’t be denied in returning to the championship game. The road wouldn’t be easy as the TexAnns, the only team to hand the Lady Buffs a loss in conference play this season, gave the seasoned Lady Buffs everything they could handle. WT responded down the stretch as it closed the game on a 15-4 run giving the Lady Buffs their first LSC tournament title since 2010.
“It means everything to come home with this, especially after last year coming in here with these same girls crying and now we are on top,” senior Devin Griffin said. “We know that we are proud of this and happy, but it isn’t our main goal. As a team we will continue to fight and keep playing.”
With the win, WT improved to 27-2 on the year, while Tarleton State fell to 21-8 as the Lady Buffs earned the Lone Star Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next weekend. The TexAnns should be in the tournament field, too, as they were the third in the region ranking which was released Wednesday.
White followed up her career-high 32-point performance last night against Midwestern State with 14 points and seven rebounds Saturday, earning MVP honors. White is the first Lady Buff to earn MVP accolades since Joni Unruh in 2009-2010, and is the ninth Lady Buff to earn the honor and the 10th time overall. Emily Brister won it twice in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
White was 8 of 9 from the free throw line against the TexAnns. She finished the tournament averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 16 of 33 from the field and 21 of 29 from the line. Joining White on the all-tournament team were seniors Casey Land and Devin Griffin.
“It was a physical game, we had to battle,” White said. “I am proud of my teammates we didn’t fold at the time things were going south and glad we got it done.”
Griffin led the way for the Lady Buffs with 21 points and 10 rebounds for her team-leading sixth double-double of the year. She was 7 of 12 from the field and 7 of 9 from the line, with three assists, three steals and one block. Land was second on the team with 20 points on 5 of 11 from the field, 1 of 4 from beyond the arc and a perfect 9 of 9 from the line. It was the second-straight game the Lady Buffs had two players over 20 points and third of the season. Gerald chipped in 10 points.
“I knew that I had to crash the boards, especially on offense as we weren’t making a whole lot of shots,” Griffin said. “We can always get second shots and that’s what I wanted to do.”
As a team, the Lady Buffs shot 42.9 percent on 21 of 49. They were just 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, but made up for it going 31 of 39 from the line for a 79.5 clip. WT out rebounded TSU 43-32 and 32-23 on the defensive end.
“I thought the free throw line was the difference in the game and we controlled the boards fairly well against a really good rebounding team,” Kellogg added.
TSU was led by 14 points and 10 rebounds from Kiara Wright who was 5 of 9 from the field, but just 4 of 13 from the line. She was saddled by foul trouble for much of the game Ipeaku Iwobi had 10 points off the bench on 4 of 7 from the field and 2 of 5 from the line. They were the only two TexAnns in double figures.
The TexAnns shot 25 of 55 from the field and 5 of 12 from beyond the arc, but were just 12 of 26, including 10 of 20 from the line in the second half, which proved costly.
Griffin gave WT a 65-63 lead with 2:30 left. Two big misses by Wright gave WT the ball and foul with 2:16 looking to go up two possessions. Senior Lacee Logan made it a 66-63 lead. Wright missed two more with less than two left and Land scored inside for a 68-63 lead and a TSU timeout with 1:31 remaining.
TSU’s Karli Moore cut the deficit to 68-65 with 1:18 left. Two charity tosses by Griffin swelled the lead to five and six free throws from Land in the final 38 seconds gave the Lady Buffs the 76-67 victory.
A triple by Land gave WT an early 7-5 lead with 17 minutes left in the opening half. It was her first make in 10 tries as she went 0 of 9 last night against Midwestern State. A steal by Griffin and triple in transition by Gerald opened a 12-5 lead as WT went on for a 22-8 lead to begin the game.
A triple from Raven McGrath cut the deficit to 22-11 with 10 minutes left in the half ended a 19-3 run by the Lady Buffs. Ikpeaku Iwobi scored four quick points as the TexAnns responded with a 7-0 run cutting the deficit to 22-15 with 8:01 left. A triple from Meagan O’Dell cut the deficit to 23-18 with a 10-1 run and a media timeout.
After a turnover by the Lady Buffs, McGrath buried another triple cutting the deficit to 23-21, extended the run to 13-1 over the last 3:08. Griffin answered for the first field goal for WT since the 10:53 mark for a 25-21 advantage with six minutes left in the half.
“I think we lost a lot of energy after our early lead,” Land said. “We were flying around on defense and I don’t know if we got complacent, but luckily we were able to come back in the second half and pull out the win.”
Two free throws from White pushed the Lady Buff lead back to six at 27-21 with 4:34 left. O’Dell hit her second triple keeping the TexAnns within three at the other end. Out of the final media timeout of the half, O’Dell hit her third triple to tie the game at 27.
Lowrance scored inside for the TexAnn’s first lead since 5-4. Gerald ended the run at the other end to tie it at 29 with 1:27 left. A breakaway layup and foul gave Land the “and one” with 11.1 seconds left for a 32-29 advantage. A bucket at the buzzer by Karli Moore cut the deficit to 32-31 at intermission and some momentum heading into the locker room.
For the half, the Lady Buffs shot 11 of 24 from the field for 45.8 percent. They were 2 of 6 from beyond the arc and 8 of 11 from the line. Gerald and White led the way with seven points each. WT held a 23-13 lead in rebounding, but nine turnovers led to 12 points off miscues for TSU.
The TexAnns shot 12 of 29 from the field after opening 3 of 10. O’Dell was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc keeping TSU in the game and the team was 5 of 8. LSC’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Wright, had just three points and three rebounds as she was saddled with two early fouls.
The teams basically traded buckets through the first six minutes and Wright picked up her fourth foul with 14:03 left as Tarleton State was clinging to a 47-45 lead. Two free throws by Moore gave TSU its largest lead of the game at 49-45 with 12:40 left.
A big bucket by freshman Madison McLain tied the game at 49 with 10:26 left. A turnover by the TexAnns gave WT a chance at the lead for the first time since 15:56. Griffin grabbed an offensive rebound and scored for the lead at 51-49 as Tarleton State called a timeout. WT used a 6-0 spurt to regain the lead.
Two free throws by Land gave WT the lead back at 55-54 with 6:41 left. Griffin scored on a turnaround layup for a 57-54 lead following a miss by TSU. Back-to-back field goals from Travanti Downs gave TSU the one point advantage with five minutes left.
The Lady Buffs now will await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show and see if they will be awarded the top-seed and host site of the upcoming NCAA South Central Region tournament scheduled for next weekend. The selection show will be announced via NCAA.com Sunday evening at 9 p.m. CT. The show can be seen live at http://www.ncaa.com/live/player?vid=2014/1345&date=2014/03/09.
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