It took three overtimes, 101 points and clutch free throws down the stretch, but the Western Carolina women’s basketball weathered it all, to capture the 2009 Southern Conference Tournament Title on Monday, Mar. 9 in the longest ever SoCon tournament title match.
The No. 3 seeeded Lady Catamounts (21-11), defeated No. 4 seed College of Charleston (23-8) 101-87.
“First of all, no one deserved to lose that game,” said head coach Kellie Harper in her opening statement during Monday’s post-game press conference. “I honestly believe those two teams deserved to be there and no one deserved to lose.”
Harper added, “This whole tournament, all I kept thinking about was I wanted our seniors to go to the NCAA tournament. I wanted them to have that opportunity. Lauren (Powell) and Kendra Eaton, they were in our first recruiting class at Western and I wanted it for them really bad. I wanted it for the team because they have done everything we have asked them to do.”
The Lady Catamounts took the lead to start the third overtime when senior Eaton was fouled after the tip. She drained one of two free throws, to put the Lady Catamount up by one, 86-85. The Cougars quickly retook the lead off a Deidera Jones lay-up with 3:46 remaining.
The Lady Catamounts 14-0 run to close out the third overtime began with a monster three-pointer by Heather Swayne to put WCU up 89-87 with 3.24 left. Southern Conference Tournament MVP Brooke Johnson scored seven of the Lady Catamounts final 10 points to close out the game, and give Head Coach Kellie Harper her second tournament championship. Both of which were earned at McKenzie Arena at the Univeristy of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Charleston, which was playing in its first SoCon title game on Monday, built a 15-point lead over the first 25 minutes of regulation and was on the verge of putting the game away when WCU’s Kaila’Shea Menendez hit a 3-pointer with 13:15 remaining in the game and provided Western Carolina with a needed inspiration.
WCU proceeded to go on a 17-3 run, capped by a lay-up by Eaton, to take a 55-51 lead with 6:58 left in regulation.
The tide looked to have turned in Western Carolina’s favor after building an eight point advantage, 61-53, with 6:53 left. It was then College of Charleston’s turn to make the comeback and cut the Lady Catamount lead down to two twice in the final minute.
Western Carolina was up by five points with 25 seconds remaining when College of Charleston’s Tonia Gerty drained a three-pointer to cut it to 70-68. The Lady Catamounts turned the ball over, and Gerty hit a lay-up with two seconds remaining, to tie the game at 70 and force the first overtime.
The Lady Catamounts were down by two with 1.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime when Powell was fouled to put her on the free throw line. Powell calmly drained both free throws to tie the game at 78 and force the second overtime.
College of Charleston built as much as a five point lead in the second OT, leading 85-80 with 1:59 remaining, but Powell drained a three-pointer to cut the Cougar lead to two, 85-83. Again it was up to Powell and her free throw heroics, when she was placed on the free throw line, and hit two from the charity stripe to tie the game at 85.
The game set several tournament records. College of Charleston’s 88 field goal attempts broke the old record of 86 that Chattanooga set against Appalachian State in 1991. The game was the third-highest scoring game in SoCon Tournament history and the longest to date for a title game. Western Carolina’s 101 points was also just the third 100-point game in tournament history.
Johnson led all scorers with 21 points and also recorded a double-double with 13 boards. The 6-4 senior center also notched four blocks to take over the Western Carolina career blocks record at 130.
Four other Lady Catamounts also posted double figure scoring. Powell had 19 points, Emily Clarke added 18, Kristen Feemster had 15 and Swayne had 12 points.
With winning the Southern Conference Championship, the Lady Catamounts receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Western Carolina’s women’s basketball team will find out where they will be sent in the NCAA Tournament, at 7 p.m. on ESPN on March 16. Fans can join the team as they await their fate beginning at 6:30 p.m. at a yet to be determined site.
Tickets for the NCAA First and Second rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament will be available at the Western Carolina ticket office, by phone or walk-up, beginning at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 17, for Catamount Club members only. Ticket prices have not been announced yet, and will be made available for the general public beginning on Wednesday Mar. 18.