BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A 24-4 second half run broke open a tight contest as the Prairie View A&M University Lady Panther basketball team captured their second-ever NCAA Tournament bid and SWAC Tournament Championship in three seasons after a 74-49 victory over Southern University on Saturday afternoon at Fair Park Arena in Birmingham, Ala.
The top-seeded Lady Panthers broke out of the gates early as they claimed an 8-0 advantage less than three minutes into the contest over the No. 2 seed Jaguars. Southern found its offensive groove and went on a 6-2 run to draw within four at 10-6 but the Lady Panthers exploded over the next four minutes with a 12-2 run of their own for a 22-8 advantage with 10:21 remaining in the first half.
With the game in PV’s favor as the first half ticked down, Southern refused to go away and answered the Lady Panthers with a furious 25-5 surge to knot the contest at 33-all at the 1:14 mark after a jumper by Tenesha Brown. Sensing the game slipping away, Prairie View came back to life with four points over the next minute to claim a 37-35 halftime advantage.
“We gave up 35 points in the first half and we’re not accustomed to doing that,” said Lady Panther head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. “During halftime, we talked about defense and not turning the ball over in addition to our gameplan – which is defend, rebound and run. When we have those three things working together I feel like we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
Both teams went cold for nearly three minutes in the second half until a layup by Gatti Werema gave PV a 39-34 lead. Southern drew to within one at 39-38 after a Deidra Jackson trey but Candice Thomas and Dominique Smith answered with back-to-back baskets to up Prairie View’s lead back to five (43-38) with 16:32 left. Once again, SU closed to within three after Sabrina Scott’s layup but Prairie View senior post Twila Stokes upped their advantage back to 45-40 nearly a minute later. From that point, the Lady Panthers went into overdrive as they shot lights out en route to outscoring Southern 29-9 to close out the contest.
Tournament MVP Gatti Werema had one of her finest performances on the year with a 29-point, 16-rebound effort in 37 minutes of action. Fellow All-Tournament Team member Candice Thomas followed with an 18-point performance while Dominique Smith added 16 points and a team-high eight assists.
“We’re excited and I’m very happy to the point where I can’t stand myself,” said Cooper-Dyke amidst a room of laughter. “Gatti played terrific and Candice played great. Candice was the MVP of our first championship and Gatti is coming off the first anniversary of her ACL tear. With the way she played tonight it was one heck of a way to come off an ACL injury in just six or seven months.”
The next time Cooper-Dyke and the Lady Panthers hit the court will be in the 2009 NCAA Tournament that’s slated to begin next week. The opponent, location and time will be determined by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee next week.