Lady Commodores repeat as national champions
By Dustin Kent747-5065 | @PCNHDustinKentdkent@pcnh.com
LUBBOCK, Tex. — Before they even began play in the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship this week, Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel said her five returning sophomores had already secured their legacy as one of the greatest classes in program history.
That legacy was enriched even further Saturday night, as the No. 1 Lady Commodores cruised past No. 6 Trinity Valley 87-63 to capture their second consecutive national title and the fifth in the school's history. Gulf Coast moved to 34-2 on the season and the sophomore class finished their two-year career with a record of 66-3 with back-to-back Panhandle Conference, Region 8, and national championships.
"That's history at Gulf Coast," Scovel said. "No other group has done that and we've had some groups do some special things here. The class of 2017, not only will they do the most important thing and be 100 percent graduation rate, but they get to walk away saying they won back-to-back triple crowns. That's amazing. That will go down in history."
The Lady Commodores completed their run with arguably their most complete performance of the tournament, shooting 51 percent from the field as a team, making 7 of 20 from the 3-point line, and limiting the Lady Cardinals to just 38 percent shooting as a team.
"That was pretty good from start to finish," Scovel said. "It was a great defensive effort, great offensive execution. I just couldn't be happier for these kids to be able to shine on championship night. We played well early and gained a lot of confidence. We played great defense and communicated. Everything we've been stressing and emphasizing all year, these ladies did everything we asked and they did it well."
Shayla Bennett lead Gulf Coast with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting and 3 of 6 from the 3-point line, while Jhileiya
Dunlap added 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and five blocked shots. Maria Castro had 14 points, nine
rebounds, and four assists, with Shaterrika O'Neal scoring 12 points and Taylor Emery 11. Emery was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player for averaging 22.3 points over the four games in Lubbock.
Christalah Lyons led the Lady Cardinals with 16 points, followed by Shakeela Fowler with 15, Naomi Davenport
11, and Jordan Alexander 10.
It was a rematch of last year's title game won by Gulf Coast 63-47, though this year's matchup was even less competitive, with the Lady Commodores taking the lead for good at 5-3 with 8:40 left in the first quarter and leading by as much as 29 in the second half.
The Lady Commodores dominated from the opening tip, jumping out to a 16-3 lead with five different players scoring. A 3-pointer by Bennett made it 24-9 at the end of the first quarter, though Trinity Valley started the second quarter with a 9-2 run capped off by a jumper from Fowler to make it 26-18 with 4:45 to halftime.
Gulf Coast answered with an 8-1 run, as O'Neal started it with a jumper, followed by a runner in the lane by Bennett, a dribble pull-up by Emery, and a driving basket by Bennett to make it 34-19.
The Lady Commodores continued to pour it on in the second half, starting the third quarter with a 3-pointer from Emery and then a steal by Dunlap leading to a layup with the foul for Emery to make it 41-21.
The Lady Cardinals got back to within 14 at 51-37 on a three from Davenport with just over two minutes left in the third. Gulf Coast responded with a three-point play from Dunlap, a banked in three from Ty Purifoy, and two free throws from Castro to push the lead back out to 59-39.
A 10-3 run to start the fourth quarter for Gulf Coast ended any notions of a Trinity Valley rally, as O'Neal opened with a pull-up jumper, Dunlap followed with a basket inside and a free throw, Castro knocked in a 3-pointer, and Dunlap scored inside again to make it 71-45 with 7:10 remaining.
A three-point play by Castro off of a nice backdoor cut, a short jumper for Emery, and two free throws from Castro gave the Lady Commodores their biggest lead of the night at 85-56 with 2:56 left in the game.
This year's championship run was perhaps even more impressive than last year's, with Gulf Coast losing starting guard Amanda Paschal to a season-ending injury in the preseason before losing returning rotation guard Raven Fox for two months with a head injury, and then 6-foot-4 center Fatou Diagne to a season-ending injury in January.
Scovel credited her remaining players' fortitude and mental toughness for continuing to perform at a high level despite the injury setbacks.
"The kids are just resilient," she said. "There are a lot of emotional things that can happen that can tear a team apart, but whatever happened they bounced back and stayed resilient. They fought the battle, they kept playing, and here we are and they get to claim themselves as national champions."
TRINITY VALLEY (63)
Lyons 6 4-4 16, Davenport 4 1-2 11, Fowler 6 2-3 15, McHenry 1 0-0 2, Alexander 3 1-2 10, Murray 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, M. Mills 0 0-0 0, D. Mills 2 0-0 4, Daniel 2 1-2 5. Totals: 24 9-13 63.
GULF COAST (87)
Purifoy 2 2-2 7, Emery 5 0-1 11, O'Neal 5 2-2 12, Castro 3 6-8 14, Dunlap 8 2-3 18, Green 0 0-0 0, Fox 0 0-0 0, Bennett 8 2-3 16, Edwards 2 0-0 4, Bell 0 0-0 0. Totals: 33 14-19 87.
Trinity Valley 9 12 21 21 — 63
Gulf Coast 24 12 25 26 — 87
3-point field goals: Gulf Coast 7 (Bennett 3, Castro 2, Emery, Purifoy), Trinity Valley 6 (Alexander 3, Davenport 2, Fowler 1). Total fouls: Trinity Valley 17, Gulf Coast 13. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none.