BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Charlotte women’s basketball needed a game-tying 3-pointer for the second-straight year but the 49ers could not find the bottom of the net, as they dropped a 57-54 Conference USA Championships Quarterfinal matchup versus Old Dominion Thursday inside Bartow Arena. The Niners faced a deficit for much of the contest before rallying late to give themselves a chance at the final shot.
All-Conference USA Freshman Team selection Grace Hunter contributed her seventh double-double of the campaign with 10 points and a team-high 14 rebounds to go along with her career-best four assists and a blocked shot in 38 minutes. She became the program’s all-time freshman leader with 142 defensive boards after grabbing eight against the Lady Monarchs.
Senior Kira Gordon led Charlotte (19-11), the No. 4 seed, in scoring with 12 points, including 8-of-8 at the charity stripe, while All-Conference USA Second Team choice Lefty Webster and All-Conference USA Freshman Team honoree Laia Raventós each chipped in 11.
Senior Alexis Alexander, an All-Conference USA Second Team pick, hauled in 11 caroms to give the Niners a pair of players with double-digit rebounds.
Old Dominion (16-16) was led by all-league first team member Jennie Simms, who posted a game-high 24 points, while Destinee Young and Keyana Brown each added 11. Ije Ajemba hauled in a game-best 21 rebounds but the Lady Monarchs only won the battle on the glass by three, 47-to-44.
Simms seized control of the scoring early for ODU, netting the team’s first 11 points before dishing to Young and Annika Holopainen for its final two buckets. While the all-league performer was lighting it up for the No. 5 seed, Charlotte was getting its points from a variety of sources. Four different players made dents in the scoring column to keep the 49ers close. Charlotte was able to build a pair of four-point advantages around the midway point, the first on a Webster 3-pointer at 5:39 and the second on a Gordon jumper at 4:05, keeping the Niners in front, 11-7. Old Dominion continued to go to Simms to find the game’s first tie, 11-11, with 2:39 to play. Gordon answered with a layup on the ensuing trip down the floor but the two layups from Young and Holopainen inched the Lady Monarchs ahead, 15-13, through the first 10 minutes.
Old Dominion continued its momentum by tallying the first five points of the second frame, spreading the gap to seven, 20-13, and forcing Charlotte to call a timeout at the 7:52 mark. The 49ers came out of the break with an 8-0 spurt, started by a 3-pointer from Raventós to reclaim the lead, 21-20, on Webster’s jumper at 5:39 and causing the Lady Monarchs into a timeout situation. Brown buried a triple to put ODU up 23-21 with 5:09 remaining and the lower seed never looked back. The closest Charlotte could maintain the deficit was one, the last on a Webster layup at 4:11, for a 25-24 score, but Old Dominion closed the half on an 8-2 run to take a 33-26 advantage into the locker rooms.
After the two teams traded baskets to begin the third stanza, back-to-back 3-pointers from Simms widened the margin to 13, 41-28, and the 49ers were forced to use another timeout. Charlotte was able to trim it back to single digits, 43-34, following an Alexander block leading to a Hunter layup with 1:40 left but that was a close as it could get. Another layup from Hunter closed the period’s scoring and the Niners trailed by nine, 45-36, entering the final frame.
After a Brown triple started the scoring for ODU, a Raventós steal led to a baseline jumper from junior Ciara Gregory. Webster then turned her own steal into a layup less than a minute later as Charlotte cut it back to eight, 48-40, with 6:44 to go. It was the beginning stretches of an overall 9-2 run, spanning over five minutes, as the 49ers made it a one-possession difference, 50-47, on a Raventós trifecta at 1:57. Just when Charlotte seemed to have all the momentum in its favor, Brown buried a 3-pointer of her own in the corner in front of her bench to inch the edge back to a half dozen. Raventós then dropped in a 15-footer and the Niners turned their attention to fouling to prolong the contest. After the lead grew back to six, 55-49, with 18.1 left. Charlotte, knowing it needed to score and score quickly, received five fast points from its dynamic freshmen duo. Hunter went straight in for a layup, drawing a foul with 12.8 to play. After she missed the and-one opportunity, Gregory secured the offensive board and located Hunter, who turned to pass to Raventós for another trey with 5.7 seconds remaining as the 49ers found themselves down one, 55-54. Old Dominion advanced the ball in the front court for its next in-bounds play and Simms was fouled immediately. She sank two free throws to increase the margin back to three. Then, it was Charlotte’s turn to set up one last play in the half court. The 49ers worked the ball over to Raventós, who had an open look at the basket only to have her shot hit the back rim and fall out, leaving Charlotte three points shy.
The 49ers will learn of its postseason possibilities Monday night as they look to continue their season, most likely in the WNIT. Charlotte has played in the postseason 12 of the last 13 years, dating back to 2002-03.
-- Charlotte played its first game of the Conference USA Championships as the No. 4 seed. The Niners had faced the No. 5 seed only once previously in the event, during the 2003 quarterfinals.
-- It marked the third meeting between the 49ers and Lady Monarchs this season and first matchup between the two programs at the Conference USA Championships.
-- Freshman Grace Hunter finished with her seventh double-double of the campaign, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Her seven double-doubles place her one behind Alexis Alexander for the team lead this season.
-- Hunter set a school freshman record with 142 defensive rebounds, surpassing the 134 set by Charlette Hargrove (1993-94) and Tameka Smith (2004-05).
-- Hunter handed out a team-best and career-high four assists, while Raventós swiped a career-best tying four steals.
-- Senior Kira Gordon hit all eight of her free throws, her best showing at the charity stripe this season. She has eight performances in which she hit 1.000 percent at the line during the year.