Lady Catamounts win conference tournament in triple overtime

Above: The Lady Catamounts celebrate their tournament victory.

Above: The Lady Catamounts celebrate their tournament victory.

It took three overtimes, 101 points and clutch free throws down the stretch, but Western Carolina women’s basketball weathered it all, to capture the 2009 Southern Conference tournament title on Monday, March 9, in McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn. The No. 3 seeded 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 WCU head coach Kellie Harper in her opening statement during the 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.”

Lauren Powell

Lauren Powell

“What a tremendous basketball game,” said CofC head coach Nancy Wilson. “I thought our kids played an awesome game. Kellie coaches an awesome game, and they did some big things in situations, as did our kids. When we looked counted out, we came roaring back. When they looked counted, they came roaring back.”

Western Carolina 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.

Johnson, who was also an All-Southern Conference Tournament selection, led all scorers with 21 points and also recorded a double-double with 13 boards. The 6-foot-4-inch senior center notched four blocks and takes over the Western Carolina career blocks record and now has 130.

Four other Lady Catamounts also posted double figure scoring. Powell had 19 points, Second Team All-Southern Conference Tournament performer Emily Clarke added 18, Kristen Feemster had 15 and Heather Swayne had 12 points.

Western Carolina was down by 12 points (37-25) at the half and down by as much as 15 to start the second. The Lady Catamounts began to chip away at the Cougar lead with 13:14 left, beginning with a three-pointer by freshman Kaila’Shea Menendez. Then 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.

Brooke Johnson

Brooke Johnson

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. 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. Western Carolina’s 101 points was also just the third 100-point game in tournament history. CofC’s Jade Hughes recorded 52 minutes of action, a tournament single-game record.

It is the second Southern Conference Tournament title for Head Coach Kellie Harper. The club won its first tournament title in 2005. Western Carolina has now won 10-straight games, tying the longest winning streak for Kellie Harper at Western Carolina.

Look at a Web site of tournament photos, or read more about the Lady Catamounts at http://catamountsports.com.