The second time was the charm for the ladies of Virginia Union and as a result one black college basketball team was still alive on Wednesday.
The Virginia Union Lady Panthers out of the CIAA, repeat champions of the Atlantic Region and in the NCAA Div. II Elite Eight for the second straight year, pulled out a heart throbbing 78-73 win Tuesday afternoon over Peach Belt Conference and Southeast Region champ Columbus State to advance to the NCAA Div. II Final Four national semifinals on Wednesday.
Down 63-57 entering the final quarter, VUU outscored CSU 21-10 in the final period, holding them scoreless over the last 4:45 to get the win. CSU led 73-70 before VUU closed on an 8-0 run.
VUU (27-4) took the lead for good at 74-73 on junior Alexis Johnson’s jumper in the lane with 1:43 to go. Johnson canned one of two free throws with just under a minute left to put the Panthers up 75-73 before freshman Kishona Sutton drained two free throws with 20 seconds left to stretch the lead to 77-73. CSU continued to misfire, in one sequence missing three straight shots from in close. Johnson capped the win with a free throw in the final seconds.
The loss snapped a 21-game win streak for the Lady Cougars (30-2). VUU and head coach AnnMarie Gilbert were facing a familiar foe in CSU head coach Anita Howard, who last year was the head coach at CIAA member Livingstone.
VUU played the winner of Tuesday’s 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal Elite Eight game between 2nd-seed Cal Baptist (34-2) and 7th-seed West Florida (28-6). The semifinal game was set for Wednesday at 6 p.m. and was to be carried live on CBS.
The Div. II championship game is Friday at 7 p.m. and will also be carried live on CBS. Johnson, a 6-foot junior from Hamilton, New Jersey, led a balanced attack for the Lady Panthers (27-4) with 22 points. She also had a team-high 11 rebounds. CIAA Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, 6-2 senior Lady Walker had only 4 first-half points but was a key factor in the second half finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Walker, Johnson, Rachael Pecota and 6-2 sophomore Jasmine Carter did a good job limiting CSU standout center Alexis Carter. Carter had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cougars but shot just 5 of 16 from the field. Britteny Tatum led CSU with 18 points. VUU senior guard Ashley Smith and Johnson had 11 big first-half points that kept VUU in striking distance. Smith finished with 14 points while Pecota had 10.
The Lady Panthers pushed the pace continuously in the first half but were plagued by 18 turnovers. They trailed 22-16 after one period and 45-41 at the half. They were down 29-17 in the second quarter but went on a 12-0 run, with nine by Smith to pull even at 29. The run grew to 18-3 as they took their biggest first-half lead at 35-32 with 3:26 left in the half. VUU turned the ball over only nine times in the second half. Last year in the Elite Eight, the Lady Panthers led by Div. II Player of the Year Kiana Johnson, lost to Bentley 53-52.