(Edinboro, PA) - It was a drama in three acts - a game that was the fourth in a series, but had the highest stakes: a trip to the NCAA Division II Women's Elite Eight Tournament.
In the end, Shaw claimed the first and third act - and the win - downing CIAA rival Johnson C. Smith 74-54 to earn the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Title and a spot in the Elite Eight.
It was the fourth time the two teams had met this season. Johnson C. Smith (26-5) won the two regular season contests while Shaw (24-11) claimed the two post-season contests: the CIAA Championship and tonight's game, held at McCombs Field House on the campus of Edinboro University.
Shaw broke on top early, fought off a furious charge from the Lady Golden Bulls, and then built an increasing lead as the game ended.
"Smith changed their style today," said Shaw Head Coach Jacques Curtis. "They were running the ball, but today they basically took the air out of the ball. We weren't playing well at all."
Early in the game, Shaw went on an 18-2 run to capture an 18-6 lead with 9:45 left in the half. The Lady Bears stretched the lead to 14 when Johnson C. Smith opened the second act of the drama by closing out the half on an 18-6 run to pull within a bucket going into the locker room at the half.
For Shaw, the halftime break was a chance to regroup.
"We had some love at halftime," said Curtis as the players around him chuckled. "This team didn't come this far to go out like that. It goes back to the slogan we had at the beginning of the year: 'The national championship comes through Shaw.'"
The "love" the team shared appeared to fuel the Lady Bears. After giving up the bucket that tied the game at 30, the Lady Bears when on an 18-6 run to stretch the lead to 12.
With 7:55 left in the game, the Lady Golden Bulls pulled to within six on a Terrica Jones jumper. On the next play, Kyria Buford found Demaria Liles underneath the basket for a layup. Liles was fouled and sank the free throw. After getting the ball back, Buford again found Liles open, this time on the wing, and Liles sank the jumper.
The next time down the court, it was Buford who scored - with a three at the top of the key. With that three with 5:30 left in the game, the Lady Bears held a 14-point lead - which never slipped below ten the rest of the game.
Buford, named to the All-Tournament Team, said that Liles' presence on the team has made a difference in the latter part of the season. "She's taken a huge amount of pressure off me and Aslea (Williams) - just with her rebounding and scoring. But her main focus isn't scoring. I know if I throw a pass too high, she'll go get it."
Liles, the Tournament Most Valuable Player, returned the compliment, saying of Buford, "It's fun to watch Kyria play. She brings an intensity to it."
Buford finished the game with 24 points, while Liles had her second straight double-double - tonight with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Brittney Spencer and Brittany Ransom each added ten points, while Spencer collected a double-double of her own with ten assists.
With the win, Shaw advances to the Elite Eight tournament in Saint Joseph, MO.
"It feels good to finally be at this point - have them go through the three games and come out on top," said Shaw Head Coach Jacques Curtis. "This is as good a group as we've had go to the Elite Eight."
It will be Shaw's third trip to the Division II title round in six years. In both 2005 and 2006, the Lady Bears failed to get a win.
Shaw will take on Central Region champion Metro State (30-2) on Tuesday, March 22 at 3:30 p.m. (eastern).