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Lady Commodores claim national title with win over New Mexico

Dustin Kent

LUBBOCK, Tex. — When the 2018-19 season began, Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel wasn’t sure her team would even be able to get back to the state tournament given the month of preparation they lost in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

As the season came to a close Saturday afternoon, a strange and uniquely challenging year ended with the Lady Commodores in a familiar place, leaving Lubbock as the nation’s best team.

No. 2 Gulf Coast defeated No. 8 New Mexico 68-62 to claim the school’s sixth national championship and its third in the past four seasons. Of all of the Lady Commodores’ titles, this one was perhaps the least likely, and certainly one of the most satisfying.

“When it all started, I thought let’s just try to get through the season and get (the players) ready to move on to the next level and get ready for next year,” Scovel said. “But we moved on and kept doing what we do. We had to change how we did it with the storm, but we stayed true to what we do and (the players) handled it.

“Instead of being frustrated with all the things that happened to us, they kept working and getting better. By the end of the year you’re thinking, ‘wow, we’ve gotten a lot better, but how much better would we have gotten if we didn’t lose that month?’ I thought it might be too little too late, but it turns out it wasn’t and we get to come home with a national title.”

Gulf Coast (27-5) was led by Brittany Davis’ 16 points, while Alexus Dye added 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Naomi Mbandu finished with 12 points and five assists. Eternati Willock was the top scorer for New Mexico (29-6) with 22 points to go with 16 rebounds. Sydnee Wynn also had 14 points.

The game tipped off just 16 hours after the conclusion of Gulf Coast’s semifinal victory over Trinity Valley, though you wouldn’t have known it from the way the Lady Commodores came out.

Gulf Coast jumped out to an 18-3 start featuring four 3-pointers, including two from Mbandu, with the last coming from Davis with 4:24 on the clock.

The Lady Commmodores continued to pour it on early in the second quarter, with another three from Astou Gaye making it 33-15 with 6:58 until halftime.

The offense for Gulf Coast slowed considerably after that, however, and the Thunderbirds were able to cut the deficit to 36-25 at halftime after a steal and layup by Wynn in the waning moments of the quarter.

An 8-0 GC spurt midway through the third quarter featuring a free throw from Dominique Banks, a pull-up jumper from Lya Farcy, an offensive rebound and putback by Dye, and a 3-pointer from Davis extended the advantage to 49-30.

The Lady Commodores again hit an offensive slump in the fourth quarter and the Thunderbirds took advantage with a 13-2 surge to trim the deficit to 60-53 with 2:48 remaining.

New Mexico turned the ball over on its next two possessions, however, and Gulf Coast scored on a back cut by Mbandu and a driving lefty layup by Davis to push the lead back to 11 with 90 seconds to play.

A 3-pointer from Wynn briefly made it a two-possession game at 66-60 with 14 seconds on the clock, but Mbandu made two free throws with 8.6 seconds to put the game away.

Once the clock finally hit zeroes, the Lady Commodore players celebrated in jubilation while their coach had a slightly different reaction.

“Just relief,” she said. “We’d put a lot of pressure, I know I put a lot on myself to try to help these kids, and I was tired. I didn’t sleep for two days. I’m just really tired and relieved.”

Exhaustion is understandable for everyone in the Gulf Coast program with everything that transpired in the last year. Even before Hurricane Michael hit, the Lady Commodores had to deal with tragedy internally when sophomore forward Keshawn Johnson died in a car accident in September.

With so much to overcome over the course of the season, Scovel said it was her players’ mental toughness and resiliency that proved just as essential to their success as any basketball skill they possess.

“It’s so satisfying because the kids had to go through so much and they never gave up,” she said. “They had a great attitude and rolled with the punches, and we had to take a whole lot of punches. The kids just have the perfect personality honestly to do what they did.”

NEW MEXICO (62)

President 3, 1-2 9, Costa 0 0-0 0, Andrade 1 0-0 2, Caicedo 1 2-4 4, Wynn 5 2-2 14, Langford 1 0-0 3, Hawthorne 0 1-2 1, Willock 9 4-7 22, Lewis 2 1-4 5, Sparks 1 0-1 2. Totals: 23 11-22 62.

GULF COAST (68)

Dye 6 2-6 14, Kincey 3 0-0 7, Davis 5 2-2 16, Mbandu 4 2-2 12, Gaye 2 2-2 7, Farcy 1 0-0 2, Marshall 1 4-4 6, Diané 0 0-0 0, Slade 0 1-2 1, Banks 0 3-4 3. Totals: 22 16-22 68.

New Mexico 11 14 12 25 — 62

Gulf Coast 26 10 18 14 — 68

3-point field goals: Gulf Coast 8 (Davis 4, Mbandu 2, Gaye, Kincey), New Mexico 5 (President 2, Wynn 2, Langford). Total fouls: Gulf Coast 18, New Mexico 17. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: Dye.

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