Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Samford University players celebrate their 2011 SoCon tournament championship at McKenzie Arena on Monday. The Bulldogs beat the Mountaineers, 57-54.
Samford seized its chance to dance.
The Bulldogs beat Appalachian State 57-54 in the Southern Conference women’s basketball tournament final Monday after leading for only 18 seconds in the second half — the last 18 seconds.
The victory in McKenzie Arena sends Samford (25-7) to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
“We’ve only had women’s basketball for 14 seasons, we felt like in time that with what Samford’s about that we could attract really good student-athletes,” coach Mike Morris said. “We’ve been good enough to win conference championships, but every time we’ve got our team right, we bump up conferences.
“For the last three years we’ve been in the SoCon, we’ve been good enough to win it.”
The Bulldogs were close last year, but the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga rallied in the second half and cut down the nets in Charlotte.
This year, Samford ousted UTC in overtime and then toppled the top seed in the final minute to claim its ticket to the Big Dance.
Paige Anderson led Samford with 14 points and six rebounds. Tournament MVP Savannah Hill added 13 points, and Emily London scored 12.
Ashlen Dewart led the Mountaineers with 13 points, and Courtney Freeman added 12.
ASU had a desperation chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but Sam Ramirez’s 40-footer left her hand too late.
“Sometimes you have to play in a game to learn how to win it,” said ASU coach Darcie Vincent, who finished her third season in Boone, N.C. “They made shots when they needed to, and we didn’t. We had a ton of opportunities to win it, and we couldn’t pull it out.”
Anderson eluded defenders and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Bulldogs a 55-54 lead with 18 seconds to go.
“I didn’t really think about it,” Anderson said. “I saw Emily making her moves and I was like, ‘I’m going to curl around just in case.’ She threw me the ball and I shot it.”
Then ASU’s Freeman drove baseline and missed a short jumper, but Dewart pulled down the rebound and got fouled on the putback with 4.1 ticks to go.
Dewart’s first free throw bounced off the back of the rim. It could have tied the game. Samford called a timeout. Dewart’s second free throw missed even longer.
“I choked,” said Dewart, who had a towel over her head during the hand-shake line. “I choked and lost us the game.”
Vincent had a different perspective.
“At the end of a game, you never do anything to lose it,” she said. “It’s always little plays before that that lose the game. She had a chance to win it. It didn’t lose us the game. It didn’t give us the win.”
Shelby Campbell grabbed the rebound and calmly hit one free throw and a bonus shot, setting up ASU’s last-gasp.
“The only lead we had was there at the end,” Morris said. “As a coach, you want your players to experience the best, what it’s like to win a championship and reach the top. It’s all well-deserved.”
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...