The Women’s basketball team cruised their way to the Southern Conference tournament finals before losing a hard fought game against top seeded Chattanooga 71-59
The first two rounds the Catamounts looked unstoppable, easily taking care of Wofford 78-61 in the quarterfinal, and Elon 72-66 in the semis.
The first matchup of the tournament pitted the second seeded Catamounts against the bottom seeded Wofford Terriers. The terriers attempted to be the Cinderella story of the tournament coming off their upset of #7 Furman, and looked to challenge the cats.
The Lady Cats led by 14 at half time but were getting out rebounded leading to very few second-chance points. Coach Kellie Harper surely gave them an earful during half time because team came out fighting on the boards. The Cats pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in the second half, leading to 12 second-chance points. Wofford closed the scoring gap to within five, but could not come any closer as the Catamounts built up a 17 point lead.
Freshman guard Emily Clarke contributed big in the second half with 10 points. She believes holding off the Wofford run was a result of hard work on defense.
“Every team has a run in them,” Clarke said “Sometimes during a game and we had to keep our composure and keep our focus. We worked hard to play our game. Wofford ran a lot of hustle plays and were very physical. It was up to us to respond when the made their runs.”
The semifinal match showcased the WCU against Elon University. This game again showed the Catamounts could fight off a late run by an opponent.
Western went into halftime with a comfortable 14 point lead. Second half shooting was key for Elon, as they drained 12 three-pointers during the game. Elon fought their way back to take the lead with six minutes left in the game. The catamounts were able to rally, however, behind Senior guard Monique Dawson’s 15 points. Kendra Eaton also scored in double figures for the second straight game, and Clarke also again reached 10 points.
The finals proved to be a heartbreaking loss for the Catamounts, as it was a game they wanted to win so badly.
“One of the hardest things that you will have to do as a coach is go into the locker room and talk to a broken-hearted team,” Harper said. “When you know that’s the game that they wanted more than anything – they worked hard for it and Chattanooga was a better team tonight.”
Western’s only lead in the game came off the opening two shots, up 6-5 for a brief period of time. Despite playing catch-up for most of the game, the level of effort they put forth was intense. The Mocs started the game on fire and led by 11 at half, which Coach Harper believed may have thrown them out of their offensive rhythm.
“…They(Chattanooga) started off on such a tear offensively and we tried to weather the storm and look for some daylight and we finally got it but we couldn’t do anything offensively. We were rushing shots, not being strong in the paint, shots that we are usually able to knock down we weren’t scoring. Our coaching staff talked about it before the game and we thought `we have to score with them’ because they are going to score and we focused on try to score and got some good looks and weren’t able to convert.”
At one point in the second half the Mocs were up by as many as 15, but never gave up and never stopped fighting. Junior Eaton sparked a good run and brought the Cats back to within four at the 12:00 minute mark.
The game was much closer than the final score suggests, as the Catamounts were forced to foul and put Chattanooga on the free-throw line to save time in the game. Chattanooga All-Conference performers Alex Anderson and Laura Hall proved they had too much fire power as the Mocs won the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
“Our kids played hard and they didn’t quit and I’m proud of them for that. Hats off to Chattanooga, we’re going to be pulling for them in the NCAA Tournament.” Said Coach Harper.
Standouts from the tournament were Seniors Jessika Johnson and Monique Dawson and Freshman Emily Clarke. Johnson led the Lady Cats in scoring averaging 13.3 a game and was named to the All-SoCon Tournament First Team. Dawson and Clarke were also named to the All-SoCon Tournament Second Team. The Lady Cats finish the season with a record of (25-8), the best in school history. The previous best win total was also under coach Harper in the 2006-2007 season.
The Cats’ 25 wins could still be enough to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, but if not they are guaranteed a spot in the WNIT. The field of 64 teams will be announced on March 17.