SAN ANTONIO, Tex. – "We are going to give them a game worthy of television."
Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis had said those words in a press conference prior to the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship.
Tonight, his players made him a prophet as Shaw came from an 11-point halftime deficit to claim an 88-82 overtime victory over #2 ranked Ashland to claim Shaw's first national championship in any sport.
"This is what Coach recruited us for," said Shaw senior center Aslea Williams. "I wasn't going to finish my senior year with a loss. Even when I didn't play well, my teammates had my back."
Senior guard Brittney Spencer echoed her sentiment. "This feels awesome. This is what I dreamt about. This is what I play basketball for."
"It's a surreal feeling right now," said senior forward Kyria Buford. "After all we've gone through, it just feels unreal."
The Lady Bears got off to a quick start, but soon fell behind Ashland and trailed by 11 at the half.
"We weren't that concerned that we were down by 11 at the half," said Curtis. "We knew we hadn't played our best, but we felt good and had a lot of energy. We felt we could wear them down."
He continued, "We had to make sure we could still see them. They had a chance to put us away in the first, but didn't take advantage of it. We felt a close ballgame was to our advantage."
Shaw jumped on top 8-2 early, but Ashland dashed off an 11-2 run to claim a 13-10 lead with 13:56 left in the half.
Both teams ran the ball, but the Eagles hit 14 of their 28 attempts in the first. One of those 14 was a three by Jena Stutzman that came with 54 seconds left in the first and gave Ashland a 14-point, 43-29, lead. Williams hit a free throw and Brittany Ransom dropped in a layup to give the Eagles the 43-32 halftime lead.
At the half, only Buford of Shaw's "big three" - Buford, Williams, and Crystal Harris - had more than a single point with six. Combined they had seven points.
"We were a little frustrated," said Curtis. "They (Ashland) were just standing in the lane. They clogged up the paint. But they didn't play our point guards."
Sequoyah Griffin, who had already collected 10 points in the first half, helped key a scoring run to start the second half. With 16:16 left in the game, Griffin hit a three that cut the Eagle lead to only four at 45-41.
Off a Buford missed shot, Williams got the rebound and missed herself ... twice ... before finally collecting her third offensive rebound of the possession and downing the layup to cut the lead to only two.
Stutzman sank another three for Ashland to extend the lead back to five, but Shaw wasn't done.
Down 50-45, Griffin hit a jumper and Ransom hit a three to tie the game at 50. The two teams exchanged buckets to tie the score at 52, then - off of one of Allyssa Lane's six steals - Harris sank a short jumper that gave the Lady Bears their first lead since early in the game.
The two teams exchanged buckets for another six minutes, but the Eagles got a layup from Stutzman and a three from Lindsay Tenyak to give them a five-point lead. Griffin responded with four straight points, then Harris again gave the Lady Bears a lead when she hit another short jumper.
With 25 seconds left in regulation, Williams hit a layup that gave Shaw a 72-69 lead, but with six seconds left, Stutzman hit yet another three to tie the game and send it into overtime.
"We were disappointed the shot went in," said Curtis. "But on the positive side, we didn't mind playing five more minutes. We felt we were fresher. It just gave us a chance to score some more points."
Griffin opened the extra period with a jumper and Williams had an old-fashioned three to give the Lady Bears a 77-72 lead.
With 2:11 left in overtime, Spencer hit a layup to give Shaw a seven-point lead. That would be their last field goal as Ashland started fouling Shaw in order to stop the clock. In those closing minutes, Shaw hit seven of eight free throws, and the Eagles could do nothing to make any real inroads on the lead.
With 17 seconds left, Kari Daugherty hit a trio of free throws for Ashland that set the final score at 88-82.
For all the high flying shooting, the game may have been won on the ground and on ball control. Shaw committed only eight turnovers, while forcing the Eagles into 21 miscues. Lane had six steals for the Lady Bears and Williams added another five.
Shaw finishes the season with a 29-6 mark, including a 15-game winning streak and winning 26 of their last 27. Ashland had their 33-game winning streak snapped and finish the season 33-2.
Griffin led Shaw with 24 points on 10 for 15 shooting. Spencer added 16 points and led Shaw with seven assists. Both Ransom and Williams had 14 points, but Williams coupled hers with 11 rebounds for a double-double. And Kyria Buford added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Only Spencer (38) played more than 35 minutes for Shaw.
Four of Ashland's five starters played more than 40 minutes, while the fifth played 39. Stutzman was the leading scorer with 32 points. Daugherty added 24 and Alyssa Miller tossed in an additional 12. Daugherty led both teams with 15 rebounds, and had four assists to pace the Eagles.