For the third straight game in the Big South Tournament, Radford’s women’s basketball team played a nail biter that went down to the wire Sunday. Unfortunately, the Highlanders weren’t able to pull this one out as UNC Asheville closed the game on an 8-0 run to take a 49-48 decision and the championship.
Radford didn’t trail in the game until Asheville’s Bronaza Fitzgerald made two free throws with five seconds left. Fitzgerald had made the game-winning three-point play in the Bulldogs’ semifinal win Saturday, but had missed all four of her free-throw attempts in Sunday’s game.
After Highlanders’ timeout, Destinee Walker got the ball at the top of the key and drove the right side of the lane. Her shot was blocked and the ball went to Janayla White on the other side of the basket, but her attempt as the buzzer sounded missed short.
White posted her third straight double-double in the game, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Jayda Worthy added 14 points and five rebounds and Walker chipped in nine points and seven boards. White and Walker were both named to the All-Tournament Team.
Radford led for over 37 minutes in the game after getting off to a strong start, making four of its first six shots to take an 8-0 lead 3:27 into the game. Worthy and Walker each hit jump shots, while White and Sydney Nunley converted inside. Nunley added a jumper and another layup off an assist by Jen Falconer and Walker scored off a feed by White for a 14-5 margin with 2:58 left in the quarter. Radford had shot seven for 10 at that point, with four different players scoring and four contributing at least one assist.
However, the Highlanders went scoreless the rest of the period and Asheville scored six in a row to get within three. The Bulldogs carried the momentum into the second quarter and eventually clawed back into an 18-18 tie at the 7:22 mark on a layup by KJ Weaver as they made 8 of 11 shots following an 0 for 6 start to the game.
Radford, though, closed the half strongly offensively, hitting six of its last seven shots and scoring on seven of its last eight possessions to regain a 33-27 advantage at the break, despite Asheville making a trio of 3-pointers. Walker gave the Highlanders the lead back at 21-18 on a 3-pointer of her own, before Worthy scored five points and White added four in the closing stretch.
The teams traded points early in the third quarter with Radford holding a 40-33 lead after two free throws by Worthy. The Bulldogs then scored five straight, including a 3-pointer by Jessica Wall that made it a two-point game. White was then left alone underneath on the ensuing Highlanders’ possession and converted the layup with just under two minutes left and neither team scored after that, giving Radford 42-38 edge heading into the fourth.
Asheville’s Chatori Major hit a 3-pointer to start the period, making it a one-point game and the Bulldogs missed a couple of chances to take their first lead before White was fouled and made both free throws. She added two more from the charity stripe almost three minutes later and Worthy drove for a layup for a 48-41 lead with 5:10 to play.
The score stayed that way until a layup by Major with 2:55 on the clock ended a zero for 10 Asheville drought. Khaila Webb, who led the Bulldogs with 16 points, then added two free throws to cut the deficit to three and after an exchange of misses, Major nearly turned the ball over, but recovered and hit a short jumper just before the shot clock expired to make it 48-47 with 55 seconds to go. Worthy was then unable to get a layup to go and the Bulldogs worked the ball into Fitzgerald on the left side of the lane and she drew the foul.
Radford shot 60 percent (15 of 25) in the first half, but connected on just 5 of 24 attempts in the last two quarters, including just one of nine in the fourth.
The Highlanders finished the game at 41 percent, but hit just one of seven 3-pointers. White’s double-double was her eighth of the season. She made six of nine field goals and all four of her free throws.
White collected a double-double in each of the Highlanders’ tournament games, marking her fifth straight game with a double-double.
Radford owned a 28-16 edge in points in the paint, but UNC Asheville countered by making 6 of 12 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs, who posted their sixth straight victory, shot 35 percent overall in the game after Radford had held its first two opponents to an average of 29 percent. Asheville shot just three of 14 in the fourth quarter, but made two of its last three.
Major, who had averaged 20 points in the teams’ two regular-season meetings, was held to 10 in this game, but seven of them came in the fourth quarter. Her only points came on a 3-pointer that opened Asheville’s scoring in the game.
Major, Webb and Wall combined for each of the team’s six 3-pointers, each going two for four. Radford totaled 11 assists on 20 made field goals, with Falconer collecting four.
The Highlanders have had five out of their last six games decided by three points or less, going 4-1 in those games.
“First, I want to congratulate UNC Asheville. They’ve got a group of fighters and winners and found a way to win today. This is a heartbreaking loss for us, but I think a lot of good can come from it if we can handle it the right way. It’s so hard knowing you led until the very end and just couldn’t quite finish it. That’s hard to swallow, but it doesn’t take anything away from our regular season and what this team has accomplished so far. We’ll be excited to play in the WNIT and we’ll play well,” said Radford head coach Mike McGuire.
Radford indeed will have at least one more game as it earned a berth the WNIT by virtue of its regular-season championship.
— Courtesy of RU Athletics