CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte grinded out another hard-fought win over its cross-county rival, clinching a 72-60 victory against Davidson Sunday afternoon inside Halton Arena to advance to the WNIT Sweet 16 for the second time in program history. The triumph set a single-season school record for home wins (14), lifted the seniors into the winningest class in school history (87 victories) and provided head coach Cara Consuegra the most wins by a Niners head coach in his or her first two years at the helm of the program (42).
Overall, Charlotte (26-5) moved within one of the single-season school mark for victories, set during the 2010-11 run to the WNIT Semifinals.
The 49ers were once again led by a standout performance from Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jennifer Hailey, who turned in a 22-point, eight-rebound effort to go along with her four blocked shots to extend her consecutive games streak with at least one rejection to 43.
Classmate Jai Forney added 13 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore Hillary Sigmon dropped in her first three postseason triples as part of her baker’s dozen. She also recorded a career-best two blocked shots, as the Niners finished with eight as a team.
Junior Ny Hammonds, an All-Atlantic 10 Third Team honoree, nearly added her second career double-double with 12 points and a career-high nine rebounds, including seven on the defensive glass. She shared game-best honors on the boards with senior Amanda Dowe, who also was picked to the All-Atlantic 10 Third Team.
Sophia Aleksandravicius, the Southern Conference Player of the Year, paced the Wildcats with 18 points and a team-high tying five rebounds. Hannah Early (13 points) and Jasmine Calin (12) came off the bench to contribute double-digit scoring numbers for the visitors.
Hailey and Aleksandravicius opened the game by netting the first seven combined points, helping neither team lead by more than three during the opening four minutes. Back-to-back Hailey layups during a 49-second span capped a 6-0 spurt, as Charlotte built a 14-7 cushion with 15:10 to play.
Aleksandravicius answered with a jumper and then a foul shot, slicing the margin to four, before Sigmon buried two of her 3-pointers in the next 2:19 to increase the advantage to double figures for the first time, 20-10, with 12:04 left. A 5-0 Davidson stretch pulled the ’Cats within five, but again, the Niners had a counter as freshman Kira Gordon started a 6-0 run as the defense kept the Wildcats off the board for nearly five minutes.
Two Hailey free throws kept the margin at 11, 28-17, with 4:33 to play but Davidson (22-13) never quit, as Early tallied six points and Calin chipped in four in a 10-0 surge, cutting the 49ers edge to just one, 28-27, with 53 seconds remaining in the period. A Hailey charity toss and Hammonds jumper in the lane pushed the cushion back to four at the break, 31-27.
The Wildcats opened the second frame with a 11-6 run, capped by an Aleksandravicius old-fashioned three-point play at the 15:43 media timeout to claim their first lead, 38-37, since she did the same at 18:03 of the first half.
Forney dropped in her own old-fashioned three-point play following a midcourt steal at 15:26, but again, Aleksandravicius answered to keep the game tied, at 40-40, with 14:04 to go. A single free throw from Dowe at 13:37 provided Charlotte the lead and it never relinquished it again the remainder of the contest.
Davidson kept it between a two and six-point difference until an old-fashioned three-point play from Calin at 7:59 trimmed the deficit to one, 50-49. Sigmon responded with her final 3-pointer before Early countered with a trifecta of her own for a one-point, 53-52, game with 6:47 left.
From that point on, however, a 12-3 Niners spurt during the next 5:37 allowed Charlotte to expand its lead to 10, 65-55. Hailey added seven points during the stretch, helping to put the game out of reach.
On the receiving end of fouls in the waning minutes, the 49ers converted 7-of-8 at the charity stripe to ice the victory to complete the season sweep over the Wildcats.
Charlotte returns to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday when it plays host to the winner of Florida and Winthrop. The Gators and Eagles meet at 7 p.m. Monday in Rock Hill, S.C., to determine who advances to the WNIT Third Round.
Charlotte Postgame Quotes
Head coach Cara Consuegra
What a game. We’re really proud of our team. We knew that it would be a type of game that would be really back and forth because we’re two different teams than we were in December. We knew Davidson would come and give it their best, which, I think they did. We didn’t expect it to be easy, and that’s the thing that I love about my team. Before the game, we talked about having such a great character on our team, and a great culture that when things are hard and games are tough, we believe we can win. Although that wasn’t our best effort, Davidson did a great job of slowing us down with that 2-3 zone. I didn’t think we executed great against it, but we found ways to win and made great plays. We got the ball in to Jenn when we had to. Jai Forney was just great defensively. When we turned the ball over, she [Jai Forney] gets the steal for the layup to score. We know how to make plays to win and that’s what makes our team so tough. I have to say our crowd was just incredible today with that many students and members of the community out. We knew Davidson would bring a big group, which they did, but Niner Nation showed up, and that’s really important to the team. We are excited about playing home and continue to showcase this great team to our community. It means a lot to us, and we’re really happy to get out of here with a win.
On the last meeting with the Davidson Wildcats
Consuegra: I don’t think there’s much difference than what they do. Our scout in December was pretty similar to our game plan for today. However, I knew they didn’t play their play in December, and I think the thing that we were looking out for Davidson to want to prove themselves. They wanted to prove that our 15-point win, and most of the time 24-point lead the first game wasn’t what they were. And we expected them to come out tough. We just talked about how we had to be tougher, and continue to show who we are with our effort, toughness and heart because we know each other. Games like this, to me, don’t necessarily come down to Xs and Os. It comes down to who’s tougher and I’ll take my team any day.
Jai Forney: We had the same game plan. We came into the game saying that we couldn’t like No. 2 (Laura Murray) and #21 (Sophia Aleksandravicius) get off. Like she said with our character and toughness, we just tried to come out with the team on top.
On the droughts of both teams during the game
Consuegra: We have a lot of confidence in who we are and any time we go through droughts, I don’t worry. I believe in this group of young ladies and I believe in who we are. I know we have a character to battle, and so, when it got close, there wasn’t any nervousness for me or the team. We just knew that we had to clean some things up. When Davidson slowed us down with zone, they took our inside presence away. Amanda Dowe got into some foul trouble which hurt us and then we turned the ball over 19 times against a zone. That’s never going to happen again. I thought that was a lot of things that we were doing. We were rushing and throwing things that weren’t there, and that contributed to our big drought. The good thing about us is that we believe in ourselves and we know that we’re a great defensively team. When we can’t score most of the time we can get a stop and we were able to do that down the stretch.
On the momentum to overcome droughts
Consuegra: Well we went into a timeout, I’m not sure if it was tied in the last few minutes, but I told Jenn that she had to get involve and get some touches. I thought it was a combination of us not giving her the ball and she wasn’t working that hard against the zone and I told her that. She came out [of the timeout] and scored two straight and that’s exactly what we needed. After that, we were able to find ways to finish, stop them and make free throws, which was really the key.
Jennifer Hailey: When Coach called the timeout and said I wasn’t getting the touches that I was supposed to because I wasn’t working hard. I think that sparked the team a little bit on defense too. We started to get stops.
On Davidson’s defense to prevent Hailey’s aggressiveness
Hailey: I don’t think it was Davidson. I think it was more of myself.
Forney: I think we started to get stops down the stretch and we were taking our time in the zone. Like she said [Consuegra] we were rushing a lot in the zone. We just slowed it down a little bit, took our time and made our free throws.
On the game on Wednesday
Consuegra: I told the team that this is a battle of a game. We’re banged up a little bit. We’re going to play Wednesday night and that’s a quick turnaround. It’s actually going to be a quicker turnaround because we don’t know who we’re going to be playing until Monday night. Tomorrow is going to be a light day for us, but Tuesday we’re going to get back to a normal practice. We prepared for Davidson in one day. I gave them a day off because I thought they needed it. We’re at the point of time in the year that we understand our defensive concepts and schemes. Our kids do a great job of preparing and they’re going to have to do a crunch job on Tuesday as well.
On experience of this game versus the previous game
On experiences in this game
Consuegra: Sometimes I really like being in games like this, even though the stress level is a little higher and certainly the intensity. I like being in games like this because you have to earn the win. Of course you always have to earn the win but I think it makes it much tougher. It shows the composure and character than we have, and it prepares us for the next one because we know it wasn’t easy and we know we had to work, make adjustments and come together as a group. Sometimes I think when you start out with really easy games, it’s tougher to do that when a game gets tight. For us, we have been in a lot of games like this this year. Look at our wins. We have a ton of them but none of them have been big blowouts, maybe early. In the conference schedule, everything is eight, nine or 10 points. So we know how to close out tough games like this. So we’re comfortable being in them and it prepares us for the next round.
Forney: Most likely we’re going to change players in the zone more. We’re going to be more confident and take our time more in the zone and execute our plays more. We’re also going to keep our defensive intensity up more.