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NCCU bids adieu with CIAA women's title

March 3, 2007

CHARLOTTE - Top-seeded North Carolina Central made its last CIAA Tournament a successful one.

The Lady Eagles routed No. 2 seed Elizabeth City State 89-72 on Saturday to win the CIAA Women's Basketball Tournament Championship at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

The title is the second for the Lady Eagles and the first under Head Coach Joli Robinson. Next season, North Carolina Central begins its transition to the NCAA Division I level.

The Lady Eagles (25-5 overall) were impressive in their last CIAA tournament. They held the Lady Vikings (21-9 overall) to 36 percent shooting, recorded 17 steals, forced 22 turnovers and shot 48 percent from the floor.

The Lady Eagles' main offensive weapons were in top form as they combined for 75 points. Cassie King scored 25 and grabbed 10 rebounds, followed by LaQuanda Williams with 23 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. Jasmine Newkirk scored 17 points, pulled down seven rebounds dished out seven assists, and collected six steals, and Jori Nwachukwu had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Celeste Trahan, the CIAA women's player of the year, led the Lady Vikings with 28 points, but she sat all but six minutes of the first half with two fouls. The Lady Eagles, who never trailed, took advantage as they built a 49-27 halftime lead. They broke the game open with 10 first-half fastbreak points, mainly by getting nine steals, forcing 13 turnovers, shooting 56 percent and limiting the Lady Vikings to 27 percent shooting.

The gameplan was to come out fast in the first half, according to Robinson.

"We never play good in the first half, so we came out and did some things defensively which caused us to run more than we usually do," said Robinson, who won the title in Charlotte, her hometown.

Newkirk, a freshman guard, says the Lady Eagles were clicking from the start.

"The press was working, the ‘D’ was working," Newkirk said. "Every offensive play we ran we scored. That's how the first half was." By contrast, the Lady Vikings started slowly in the first half. They played much better in the second half, outscoring the Lady Eagles 45-40, but the deficit was too large to overcome though they forced 22 Lady Eagles' turnovers and recorded 13 steals for the game.

"We weren't as aggressive as we should have been in the first half," said Deanna Price, who scored 17 points for the Lady Vikings.

Tara Owens, the Lady Vikings' Head Coach, echoed Price's comments.

"We didn't have the fight that we needed," Owens said. "We played in the second half but you can't wait until the second half to play, especially against a team like Central." Added Owens: "This is the best someone has played against us [this season] with [something] on the line." Trahan scored 24 second-half points, but the Lady Vikings could get no closer than 15 points with 22 seconds left. The Lady Eagles led by 20 or more points for the majority of the second half, including 28 points on three occasions.

Ashley Bowman added 15 points and Tanika Hudgins had 10 rebounds for the Lady Vikings.

This was the second double-digit title loss in three seasons for the Lady Vikings, while the Lady Eagles won the CIAA title after capturing the crown in 1984. The Lady Eagles wanted to win badly for Coach Robinson and King, a senior who has had a stellar college career.

"I am all smiles," King said. "I've been wanting this for four years." King, voted as the Tournament M.V.P., is one of four Lady Eagles named to the All-Tournament team. She joined teammates Newkirk, Williams and Nwachukwu of the Lady Eagles, Rochelle Bodie and Brittany Sumpter of Johnson C. Smith, Trahan and Price of Elizabeth City State, Monique Mason of Virginia State and Markeya Watson of Bowie State.

By winning the title, the Lady Eagles gained the league's automatic bid in the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Lady Vikings will await an at-large bid on Sunday.