CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Shaw University wins again in the latest matchup between two of the CIAA's premiere women's basketball programs.
Tournament MVP Aslea Williams scored 17 points as Shaw toppled Johnson C. Smith University 72-66 Saturday (March 3) in the CIAA championship game at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Lady Bears captured their second straight CIAA title and seventh in 10 seasons.
Kyria Buford added 11 points and Crystal Harris came off the bench to score 10 points for the Lady Bears (23-6 overall), who lost only one CIAA game this season. That defeat occurred at the hands of the Lady Golden Bulls as both teams split during the regular season. The Lady Bears own the Lady Golden Bulls during the postseason, however. They are 5-0 against the Lady Golden Bulls in the league title game since 2003.
"We expected to win," Buford said afterward. "But we knew we couldn't take them for granted. That's what we did the first time against them."
LaQwesha Gamble led the Lady Golden Bulls (22-6) with a game-high 23 points and took down 13 rebounds for the Lady Golden Bulls, who took more shot attempts (87-58), snagged more offensive rebounds (29-9), forced 22 turnovers and outscored the Lady Bears 41-36 in the second half.
Despite being outplayed in several categories, the Bears never wavered in winning their ninth consecutive game. Every time the Lady Golden Bulls pulled close, the Lady Bears stepped on the pedal to gain breathing room.
Ultimately, the Lady Golden Bulls were undone by the size and depth of the Lady Bears, the Southern Division champions. The combination of both wore down the Lady Golden Bulls, who often misfired from close range. The Lady Golden Bulls attempted shots over the inside players of the Lady Bears with little success. Other times, they missed layups in transition. JCSU shot 29.9 percent from the floor.
On the other end of the court, Johnson C. Smith could not stop the inside attack of Williams, Buford and Harris, who all stand 6-foot-1. They combined for over half of the Lady Bears' points. Sequoyah Griffin added nine points and seven rebounds while Victoria Tanner chipped in six points and five rebounds for the Lady Bears, who shot 51.7 percent.
Four Lady Golden Bulls played 30 or more minutes. No player from Shaw played over 27 minutes.
"We are probably the deepest team in the conference," said Jacques Curtis, who has won seven CIAA crowns as Shaw head coach. "Teams will make a run at us but eventually that run will stop because you will run out of gas. Eventually we will bring in three to four more people and keep making a run."
Ashley McGee added 13 points and LaKendra Wilkerson had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Golden Bulls. Shavonda Price scored eight points and collected 10 rebounds.
The Lady Bears led 48-34 three minutes into the second half on a jumper by Brittany Ransom. The Lady Golden Bulls then scored 11 straight points to close within 48-45. In true Shaw fashion, the Lady Bears responded with five consecutive points capped by a Ransom three-pointer for an eight point lead.
That's how the game would go the rest of the half. The Lady Golden Bulls would make a run, only for the Lady Bears to extend the margin with a run of their own.
"You can call it confident or cocky but that's Shaw," said the Lady Bears' Brittney Spencer. "We go hard every day and we expect to win, nothing else."
The Lady Bears tied Norfolk State University for the most CIAA women's titles with nine. Coach Curtis fully expects to break the record next season. First, the goal of the Lady Bears is to make a deep postseason run in the NCAA Division II Tournament. Last year, the Lady Bears made it all the way to the national semifinals.
The Lady Bears defeated the Lady Golden Bulls in the Atlantic Regional final en route to the Division II Final Four last season. This season, the Lady Golden Bulls are currently second and the Lady Bears are fourth in the region.
"We are trying to get a national championship," Curtis said. "People didn't believe we were better than last year. They thought we were a one-person team with DeMaria Liles. This year, somebody different is always going to step up because we are a hard group to defend."
JCSU head coach Vanessa Taylor is disappointed in the loss, but is certain that the Lady Golden Bulls' season is not over.
"It hurts right now," Taylor said. "All the work they put in getting to this opportunity and not having it come out the way we planned, it hurts. We are down but not out. We will take these licks, dry our tears but we won't stay too long in this moment because, fortunately, basketball is not over and not too many teams can say that."
Williams scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting to guide the Lady Bears to a 36-25 halftime lead. Buford added seven points while Spencer and Harris both added six points for the Lady Bears, who shot 45.7 percent from the floor.
Gamble scored 12 points but no other player scored five points or more for the Lady Golden Bulls, who went cold late in the first half for a 25.6 shooting percentage. The Lady Golden Bulls even missed many of their second-chance attempts despite outrebounding the Lady Bears 15-5 on the offensive boards.
Gamble scored 10 of JCSU's first 11 points to give her team a four-point lead early. The momentum swung towards the Lady Bears once they went to their bench. Led by their reserves, the Lady Bears went on a 21-4 spurt to go up 28-15 with 7:29 left in the first half. The lead stayed between 11 and 13 points for the Lady Bears the rest of the half. Led by the foursome of Harris, Spencer, Enonge Stovall, and Tanner, the Lady Bears outscored the Lady Golden Bulls 16-4 in bench points.
Williams heads the 2012 CIAA All-Tournament women's team. The squad included her teammates Buford and Harris, Juliette Turner of Bowie State, Talaya Lynch of Chowan, Price of Johnson C. Smith, Courtney Medley of Winston-Salem State, Janelle Murphy of Chowan, Gamble of Johnson C. Smith and Keyona Bryant of Saint Augustine's College.
Though the Lady Golden Bulls lost, they didn't go home empty handed. They won the 2012 CIAA women's team sportsmanship award.
In the first matchup this season, the Lady Golden Bulls nipped the Lady Bears 68-66 Feb. 4 at home. It was the only conference loss for the Lady Bears during the regular season. The Lady Bears gained revenge in Raleigh, N.C., winning by a lopsided 86-56 score Feb. 13.
Head coaches Curtis of Shaw and Taylor of JCSU are two of the premier coaches in the CIAA. Curtis has won over 250 games as Shaw women's coach. The Lady Bears have qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament six times, won three regional titles, reached the Elite Eight three times and the national semifinals last season.
Taylor won the 2011 CIAA women's basketball coach of the year award, and has taken JCSU to the CIAA finals seven times with the Lady Golden Bulls winning the crown in 2009. She is the winningest women's basketball coach at JCSU with over 200 victories. Last season, the Lady Golden Bulls won their first ever regional tournament game and were ranked No. 22 in the final USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 poll.
The Lady Golden Bulls, seeded No. 2 in the Southern Division, defeated Winston-Salem State University 75-70 and Chowan University 68-55 to make it to the title game. The Lady Bears beat Saint Augustine's College 80-73 and Bowie State University 59-44 to earn a ticket to the championship game.