By Carl Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
Six-foot senior forwards Alexis Johnson and Rachel Pecota powered nationally-ranked tournament favorite Virginia Union to a 73-57 win over Bowie State in the championship game of the women’s CIAA Basketball Tournament in Charlotte Saturday afternoon.
Johnson, who swept the league’s player and defensive player of the year awards, added the tournament MVP award to her haul of hardware, finishing with 21 points, a game-high 18 rebounds and five blocks in the title game.
Pecota, also an all-CIAA selection, took game honors with 28 points, hitting 2 of 5 from behind the arc, and grabbed 10 boards. The powerful duo controlled play in the paint and combined to sink 19 of 21 free throws.
This is the second tournament title in head coach AnnMarie Gilbert’s three seasons leading the Lady Panthers who made it to the Div. II national championship game a year ago.
“Alexis (Johnson) and Rachel (Pecota) have just been very productive leaders for us each and every night,” said Gilbert. “Nobody can come to the basket without fearing Alexis Johnson will block their shot. And they don’t want to step too far away from Rachel for fear she might drain a 3. “I’m just very proud of them and my whole team.”
The Lady Panthers (28-2), ranked fourth in last week’s NCAA Div. II WBCA national poll, came into the tournament as the top seed from the North Division. BSU (20-9), the fourth seed from the N. Div., was the tournament’s upstart, knocking off S. Div. top seed Fayetteville State and N. Div. second seed Virginia State en route to the championship game.
VUU had beaten BSU twice during the regular season by double digits. It was no different in the championship game.
Behind Pecota’s 13 first-half points and Johnson’s 9, VUU jumped out to 20-6 lead after one period and 32-16 margin at the break. They built the lead to as much as 25, at 47-22 on the second of two made free throws by Johnson with 4:21 left in the third period.
But BSU came out in the second half with its full court press and made a game of it, cutting the lead to 49-37 on a Kyah Proctor layup in the final minute of the third quarter.
But Pecota and Johnson canned 15 of VUU’s 24 fourth-quarter points to put the Lady Bulldogs away. The dynamic forwards were the only VUU players to score in double digits. Point guard Rejoice Spivey handed out 8 assists.
Proctor led BSU with 22 points before fouling out in the final minute. Kiara Colston added 13 points.
En route to her MVP award, Johnson had 19 points and 9 rebounds in an 89-58 quarterfinal win over Chowan and 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-50 semifinal win over Lincoln.
Johnson, Pecota and freshman guard Shareka McNeill of VUU, joined BSU’s Proctor, Colston and Sade Chatman on the all-tournament team.
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
Alexis Johnson, Shareka McNeill and Rachel Pecota, Virginia Union; Kiara Colston, Sade Chatman and Kyaja Williams, Bowie State, Chrisanna Green and Alexis Smith, Virginia State; Michelle Fitzgerald and Shecquan Bailey, Lincoln
JOHN C. McLENDON SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD
NOTES: Virginia Union has won the last two Div. II Atlantic Region titles to earn a spot in the Elite Eight national quarterfinals . As the top ranked team in the region, it is likely to host this year’s regional in Richmond when the tournament field is announced tomorrow (Sunday, March 4). The field will be announced by the NCAA at 10 p.m. at this link.