The Lady Catamounts basketball squad split a pair of games over the weekend at the Ramsey Center, falling to College of Charleston 64-59 on Monday after defeating East Tennessee State 85-79 Saturday.
Monday night, Western (10-5, 3-4) gained control early, but fell victim to a second-half charge by the Lady Chanticleers (10-5, 4-3).
The Lady Cats scored the game’s first six points of the game for the second straight game and led by as many as ten in the first half before C of C closed the lead to 30-27 at half time.
The second half got underway with the WCU putting together a 12-2 run to take a 42-29 lead, its largest of the game, with 15:52 left to play.
Charleston would gradually cut into the lead before scoring nine straight in less than three minutes to tie the game at 46 with eight minutes left to play.
Western ran out of steam offensively coming down the stretch, managing only one field goal over the last three minutes. The Lady Chanticleers converted their final seven free throws over the last 90 seconds to seal the win.
Senior Laura Echols, who ranks second in the conference in both scoring and rebounding, led all players in both categories with 22 points and 9 boards. She hit 8-of-13 shots from the field and converted all six attempts from the free throw line.
Head coach Beth Dunkenberger is one of many Echols’ fans across the league, as she is right now the leading consideration for Southern Conference Player of the Year.
“Laura is doing things at an incredible level, and she is doing them while being double- and triple-teamed,” she said. “She is scoring and rebounding at an incredible level and is always getting the toughest assignments on defense as well.”
Sophomore Yoneko Allen added ten points and four rebounds but committed five of the team’s 20 turnovers. Sophomore Tiffany Hamm chipped in eight rebounds and eight assists.
The squad tied their best start since the 1980-81 season with a win on Saturday night against ETSU that put the squad at 10-4 after their first 14 games.
Echols once again carried the load for the Lady Catamounts, scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Western Carolina scored the game’s first six points, but from there battled evenly with the Lady Buccaneers. After a first half that featured eight different ties in the score, Western escaped to the locker room with a 40-37 edge.
The second half featured much of the same play, as there were four more ties and no team held a lead larger than seven in the final stanza.
Echols hit a jumper with 1:41 left in the game to give WCU a 79-73 lead. East Tennessee would convert only two field goals the rest of the way and Allen hit four free throws in the final 24 seconds to ice the win.
Dunkenberger was not surprised that the game was played so equally when considering conference play thus far this season.
“Our league from top to bottom is very tough,” she said. “There are never an easy games.”
Echols scored her game-high on 12-of-16 shooting. She recorded her fourth double-double in the last five games and scored over 25 for the sixth time this season.
Hamm nearly had a double-double as well, dropping 17 points and pulling down nine boards while dishing out a game-high four assists.
Freshman Jennifer Gardner came off the bench to give the Lady Cats a shot in the arm with 11 points and four rebounds in only nine minutes.
The Lady Cats gained control of the game in the second half by shooting a blazing 78 percent from the field, compared to just 47 percent by the Lady Bucs. Also, for the game, Western held the rebounding advantage 41-29 over ETSU.
WCU will remain at home in the Ramsey Center Saturday when they take on Appalachian State at 2 p.m. Though the team has hit a wall after winning seven of its first eight heading into conference play, Dunkenberger is encouraged by their progress thus far.
“I think we’re getting better,” she said. “We keep finding new aspects of our game to improve. I just need to be patient and remember we are playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores.”