Sports Staff Writer
UNC Asheville’s women’s basketball achieved a thrilling overtime win against Charleston Southern University team last Tuesday in Kimmel Arena. The win improves the Bulldogs record to 10-3, now tied for second in the Big South Conference.
“That was awesome. Khaila Webb is awesome, we’re going to miss her. This was one of the best games I’ve ever seen here,” said Dee Wilbanks, a retired fitness instructor who has been attending games since UNCA was called Asheville-Biltmore College, prior to the university’s adoption of its current name in 1969.
Freshman guard Nadiria Evans came off the bench in the early stages of the game and quickly converted a layup that put the Bulldogs up 14-3. Just as it began to look like UNCA would run away with the game and cruise to a second straight victory, fatigue from a prior game set in and the Bulldogs lacked the precision they started with. UNCA dominated High Point University in a 78-59 win Feb. 11, but only had a day to recover before hosting CSU.
“I said to the girls, ‘It’s good to win having not played our best basketball.’ Some of that is credit to Charleston Southern’s game plan, some of that is it being our second game in three days,” said Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, head coach. “I told (the team) in a few weeks our goal would be three games in three days, so that part we’ve got to get over.”
Junior guard Jessica Wall made two crucial free throw attempts to put the Bulldogs up three points with six seconds left in regulation. Charleston Southern inbounded the ball quickly and raced up the court. Junior guard Njeri Nelms drilled a three-pointer as time expired to tie the game at 60 and force overtime.
The Bucs got off to a red-hot start in overtime, taking advantage of a controversial unsportsmanlike foul call on sophomore guard Zip Scott. Officials declared Scott did not go for the ball and the Bucs were given possession of the ball after two free throws.
Despite quickly giving up five straight points in overtime, UNCA came thundering back. Scott grabbed a rebound raced down the court to convert a layup at the other end to pull the Bulldogs back within three. On the next Bulldog possession, Wall hit a three-pointer that tied the game at 65.
Junior forward Tiffany Wilson was forced to play a big role in the fourth quarter and overtime with senior Bronaza Fitzgerald in foul trouble.
Wilson scored the bucket that tied the game at 67 and set the stage for junior guard Ali Trani’s late game heroics.
Trani sunk both free throws to tie the game at 69 with 50 seconds left. Despite playing their second game in three days, the Bulldogs showed no signs of weariness in overtime. Smothering team defense led to a push off foul call against Charleston Southern and gave the Bulldogs possession with 10 seconds left. Immediately after the foul, Mock called a timeout and drew up a play for what would be the final possession.
UNCA got the ball to Wall, a reliable playmaker who forced up a contested three and just missed. Luckily, Wall took the shot with enough time left for Zip Scott to tip the rebound to Ali Trani, who scored her fourth consecutive point as time expired to give the Bulldogs a 71-69 victory.
“I think that was the first overtime game I’ve seen them play,” said Kyle Adams, a sophomore biology student. “They definitely made it interesting toward the end. I think our shooting started a little slow, as the game progressed we weren’t rebounding well and (CSU) were making their shots.”
Webb led UNCA in scoring with 21 points, converting 10 of her 17 attempts. Jessica Wall was a constant scoring threat and hit four of the Bulldogs five three-pointers. She and Webb combined for 39 of the UNCA’s 71 points.
The Bulldogs only shot 67 percent from the free throw line, but out-rebounded the Bucs 45-30 including 14 offensive boards.
“People talk about mental toughness being cliche, something that’s tossed around,” Mock said. “(CSU) hit a three to send it into overtime and then you’re down five. That’s an 8-0 run. To overcome that with Bree Fitzgerald on the bench, with Khaila Webb exiting the game with five fouls. To overcome that, that’s mental toughness.”
Wilson scored four of her six points during a pivotal period in the fourth quarter with Fitzgerald in foul trouble. Fitzgerald and Wilson combined for 18 boards, nine boards each, to lead the Bulldogs in rebounding.
“It was really crucial for us to get a win at home. Oddly enough, we’re undefeated on the road in conference, and playing really focused team basketball,” Mock said. “All of our games are going to be uncomfortable from here on out. This is conference play, these are high stake games for everyone. It’s all about seeding no matter where you are right now.”
The Bulldogs have four regular season games left before the Big South Tournament begins in Lynchburg, Virginia on March 8. They will look to improve their home record tonight when they host the Campbell University Fighting Camels.