CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wake Forest pulled away late and kept a pesky Charlotte squad from overcoming the deficit, as the 49ers’ women’s basketball program saw its season come to a close with a 72-69 victory Thursday night in WNIT First Round action inside Halton Arena. Charlotte entered the final five minutes tied but the Demon Deacons made plays late to decide the outcome in a contest that went back-and-forth throughout all 40 minutes.
Senior Alexis Alexander, an All-Conference USA Second Team choice, capped her collegiate career with a game-high 21 points on 10-of-16 field goals to go along with her eight rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot in 33 minutes. It marked her eighth 20-plus scoring game of the season, a team best.
Junior Lefty Webster, the other Charlotte (19-12) member to garner All-Conference USA Second Team plaudits, added 17 points, while classmate Ciara Gregory buried a game-high three 3-pointers as part of her 11 points off the bench.
Senior Kira Gordon tallied six points and two rebounds in her final collegiate appearance in addition to a steal in 26 minutes.
Amber Campbell chipped in 16 points to pace the Demon Deacons, who placed four players in double figures. Elisa Penna, Ariel Stephenson and Destini Walker all poured in 11 points for Wake Forest (17-15). Penna also grabbed a game-best 12 rebounds for the double-double.
Alexander netted the two opening buckets for the Niners and Charlotte maintained the lead through the first 3:24 until a Stephenson layup knotted the score for the first time, 5-5. Gordon’s layup on an assist from All-Conference USA Freshman Team pick Laia Raventós started a 5-0 spurt, which also included a triple from Webster, to give the 49ers a 10-5 cushion a minute later. Another Webster trifecta at 5:02 swelled the Charlotte advantage to six, 13-7, before six-straight Deacons points forced another tie by the 3:22 mark. Each team added one more bucket in the final stretch and the first 10 minutes closed deadlocked, 15-15.
All-Conference USA Freshman Team selection Grace Hunter and Gregory broke the tie with back-to-back 3-pointers, pushing the 49ers’ cushion back to six, 21-15, in the opening minute. Ataijah Taylor sliced the deficit in half and Penna converted her own offensive rebound to pull the visitors within one, 21-20, as Charlotte was in the midst of a drought lasting over three minutes. Alexander finally ended the lull with a jumper at 5:53 but a triple from Penna started a 9-0 run, spanning 2:41, and Wake Forest seized a 29-23 advantage with 3:12 left. Two treys from Gregory sandwiched a 10-0 run by the 49ers, with the junior netting eight points in the spurt, to give Charlotte the lead back, 33-29, with under a minute to play. The 49ers maintained the upper hand heading into the intermission, 33-31.
Two more Alexander jumpers started the Niners’ scoring in the second half as Charlotte opened the period on an 8-2 surge to build an eight-point difference, 41-33, by the 7:02 mark. The Deacs rallied to cut the gap back to three, 41-38, in the next minute. The 49ers then used an Alexander jumper and Raventós layup to grow the margin back to seven, 45-38. After Wake Forest pulled it back to three once again, Hunter dropped in a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Gordon added two free throws to increase the lead back to eight, 50-42, at the 3:27 mark. An old-fashioned three-point play started a quarter-closing 11-4 surge and the visitors found themselves down only one, 54-53, entering the final frame.
Webster’s old-fashioned three-point play opened the scoring, building the lead back to four, 57-53. Two free throws from Milan Quinn plus a steal and layup by Penna brought Wake Forest even at 57-57 with 7:39 remaining. The two teams would be tied three more times over the next 2:53 with Taylor’s layup providing the last tie, 63-63, at the 4:46 mark. It ignited a 6-0 Demon Deacons run before Gordon tallied two more free throws with 2:59 to play to trim the deficit back to two, 67-65. After Webster made a solid defensive stop with a blocked shot, Charlotte was unable to connect offensively and Amber Campbell drained a 3-pointer to push the Wake Forest advantage back to five, 70-65, entering the final two minutes. Four free throws by the 49ers, including three from Raventós, made it a one-point difference down the stretch. Needing to foul to extend the game, Charlotte sent Taylor to the line with 16.3 seconds left. She missed both, leaving the door open for the 49ers, but unfortunately, the Demon Deacons secured the offensive rebound and the Niners had to foul again, sending Walker to the stripe. She made the back end of the two-shot opportunity, inching the lead to two, 71-69. Charlotte called timeout to set up the final situation but a turnover led to Wake Forest locking up the win late.
The 49ers closed the 41st season in program history with their second-best record under head coach Cara Consuegra, 19-11. Charlotte will graduate Alexander and Gordon, while Gregory and Webster will join Kenya Olley as members of the senior class.
-- Charlotte made its 11th WNIT appearance, dropping its record to 10-11 in the event. The 49ers have played in the postseason 13 times in the last 14 years, dating back to 2002-03.
-- The Niners were led by 21 points from senior Alexis Alexander, her team-leading eighth game of the campaign with at least 20 points.
-- Junior Ciara Gregory ended the campaign with 67 triples, tying for third on the program’s single-season list and matching Hillary Sigmon (2012-13) for the most under head coach Cara Consuegra.
-- Gregory’s 194 attempts from 3-point territory are the second most in a single-season in school history, trailing only the 203 launched by Leslie Cook in 2003-04.
-- On the all-time 3-pointers made list, Gregory has climbed into fifth with 129, one behind Andrea Davidson (2003-06) for fourth, entering her final collegiate campaign.
-- Freshman Laia Raventós concluded her rookie campaign with 129 assists, one shy of tying Markita Aldridge (1991-92) for the most by a first-year player in school history.
-- Raventós also finished high among all-time 49ers freshmen for games started (27, tied for third); 3-pointers made (27, fourth) and minutes played (838, fifth).
-- Fellow freshman Grace Hunter made her own impressions in the school freshman records, including holding the school standard for defensive rebounds with 143, a mark she previously eclipsed versus Old Dominion March 10 in the Conference USA Championships Quarterfinals in Birmingham, Alabama.
-- Hunter also ends her season second in scoring (340 points), free throw attempts (120), offensive rebounds (84), along with a fourth-place standing for total rebounds (227) and minutes played (888).
Charlotte Postgame Press Conference
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
It was a great battle from two teams that wanted to win. I thought we were phenomenal defensively. I thought Wake Forest really struggled to score against us. I thought we played their stuff really well. I thought our scouting report done by the staff was fantastic. We lost this game because we couldn’t box out, and it’s really unfortunate because that’s been a nemesis for us all season. We’re a small team so it’s difficult for us to box out against bigger teams, as Wake is, but that’s not an excuse. We didn’t do a good job of making contact, we didn’t do a good job pushing them back and if we were able to do that, I think it may have been a much different game. I’m really proud of my team. Winning 19 games this season with everything that we went through is phenomenal. A lot of people don’t know what we went through because we don’t release a lot of stuff to the media. Throughout most of the year I had 10 out of 13 of my players on our injury report. Lefty (Webster) only practiced two times a week. It was really difficult for them to go. We didn’t do a full court scrimmage since January and this was able to rally and still be able to come and win 19 games, which is just phenomenal. More importantly, I think they’ve really set the culture that we want in this program. This team really made the decision they were going to leave this season better than it started and they did. They took control of it. I’m proud of my seniors, Kira (Gordon) and Lexi [Alexis Alexander]. I told them in the locker room that they’d left a legacy because their program is better than when they got here and that’s really what you want to do as a senior. I’m excited about the future. We have a great core of young players and I think this team is going to be really good moving forward. It’s just a tough one to swallow when you did enough to win the game but one glaring statistic lost the game for us.
On final late-game situation
I was proud of our team. I thought we handled the end-of-game situations very well. I thought defensively we were fantastic, fouling the right people and getting that steal late. I thought after we got that steal, we should’ve pushed it and maybe got a bucket because I thought we were a little conservative there. We called a timeout, we wanted the ball in Lefty’s hands and set her a ball screen, and there was just a lot of traffic in there and ended up turning the ball over. So it was unfortunate we couldn’t get a shot off. I’m not sure looking back, if I would do something different. I trust Lefty, I want the ball in her hands in that situation and I would do it again.
On the heart of the girls this year
It’s been incredible. Winning was hard but those [H.E.A.R.T.] are our core values here and these kids bought into it and didn’t let any obstacles deter them. They never got down. They really, in a way, they took those obstacles and made them better and that’s a special group that can do that. There’s a lot of people that go through things in life, that go through obstacles, and they survive and they‘re okay on the other end. But this team, it’s almost like we took it and we rallied and we thrived through all those obstacles. That’s the character of the young ladies in this program and that’s a credit to them. Obviously that’s something we preach to them as coaches but they have to do it. There was a lot stacked against them and it never deterred them. I’ve said to them many times, ‘I will go to battle with this team every day and the worst part about the season being over is I don’t get to go to battle with them again tomorrow.
On the program’s future
We’re really excited about the direction that we’re moving. I think the most important thing is that we’ve set the culture and expectations of who we want to be within the program and I think that’s going be the biggest thing moving forward for us. The standards are very high and they hold each other to those standards now. And that’s what you want out of a great team. With that being said, we do have a lot of skilled, versatile players that are young. We have some that are redshirting this season and coming in for next season and I’m really excited about this group. I think we have the opportunity to do some really special things. We have to continue to work and we have to keep building on what we’re doing, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m excited about our future.
Junior Lefty Webster
On the late-game situation
Truthfully, normally I don’t, but this time I don’t know what came over me. When she drew up the play I was fine. I was ready to take the last shot and I was thinking about just being patient and going off two feet and that’s what I tried to do. At the end, I just turned it over.
On becoming a senior next year
I think it’s going to be great. From me coming as a freshman and remembering how things were and how I looked at our upperclassmen when I was a freshman, a lot has changed. And our chemistry in our team has really grown. It’s nice to be around a team that you can actually call your family and that’s a difference when you’re out there on the court. Because you love that person, so if they mess up, you just tell them it’s okay and we go to battle for each other. And I think next season is going to be even better because we have the same people who were sitting out that believe in what coach believes in and we believe in each other.