NEW ORLEANS (XULAGold.com) — Senior guard Whitney Gathright scored 25 points and only missed two shots Sunday, leading Xavier University of Louisiana to a 75-68 women's basketball victory against NAIA No. 15 Talladega and the championship of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament at XU's Convocation Center.
The Gold Nuggets (22-11) earned the GCAC's automatic bid to the NAIA Division I National Championship, which will begin March 16 at Independence, Mo. Pairings, seedings and game times will be announced Wednesday. The Gold Nuggets will play in the opening round March 16 or 17; it will be their 19th appearance at nationals in the last 22 seasons.
Gathright, chosen tournament MVP for the second time in three years, was 7-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-2 on 3-pointers and 9-of-10 from the line. She added six assists and three steals.
Donyeah Mayfield's 3-pointer at 1:39 of the first quarter put Xavier ahead to stay, 13-10. The Gold Nuggets led 38-28 at halftime and 66-49 after Bianca Brown made 1-of-2 free throws with 5:51 remaining.
"We got after it pretty good on defense and made some shots," Xavier coach Bo Browder said. "It was one of our best efforts of the season."
Xavier outshot the Lady Tornadoes (23-5) 44.4 to 39.6 percent from the floor and made 22-of-31 free throws to Talladega's 19-of-33. Talladega entered No. 5 nationally in rebound margin, but Xavier won the boards 40-34.
Trana Hopkins had 12 points and five rebounds for Xavier, and Brown scored 10 in her second double-figure performance of the season. Donyeah Mayfield had nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks and joined Gathright on the all-tournament team.
Shakeena Benton, the GCAC Player of the Year, scored 18 points for Talladega. Tatyana Calhoun scored 17, Sashanique Youngblood had 13 points and six assists, and Tajanee Wells scored 10.
Xavier averaged 73 points in three games for its highest-scoring GCAC Tournament since 2005. The Gold Nuggets eliminated the top two seeds — No. 1 Talladega and Edward Waters — in the final two rounds. Talladega was 2-0 against Xavier during the regular season, winning both times by seven points, and won the GCAC regular-season championship by four games over Edward Waters and Xavier, which was seeded third in this tournament.
The Gold Nuggets won the GCAC Tournament for a league-record 15th time and the eighth time during Browder's 17 seasons as head coach. Browder-coached teams are 6-1 in GCAC finals during the last nine seasons, 3-0 against Talladega.
Talladega, a top-20 team the past seven weeks, is expected to earn an at-large bid to nationals.