No. 12 Walters State uses fourth-quarter outburst to rally past No. 5 seed Cochise College for 57-54 upset victory
By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – Sara Vujacic scored a game-high 16 points, including 4 3-pointers, and No. 12 seed Walters State College rallied from 10 points down early in the fourth quarter to upset No. 5 seed Cochise College, 57-54, in the second round of the NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament on Wednesday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Vujacic was the only double-figure scorer for the Lady Senators (29-5), who eclipsed last year’s exit in the second round to advance to the quarterfinals where they will face No. 20 seed Trinity Valley Community College at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Trailing 49-39 with 8:49 to play, Walters State head coach Dave Kragel called a time out to settle his troops but at the same time implore them on the defensive end. The move worked as a basket by Gazmyne Herndon and a 3-poitner by Vujacic sparked a 16-2 run that gave the Lady Senators the lead for good at 55-51 with 36.5 seconds to play.
“We never gave up,” Vujacic said. “We believed, and like coach said, the first half we couldn’t make a shot, but we kept shooting and eventually those shots were going to fall in.”
the national tournament averaging 76.2 points per game but were held almost 20 points below their average. Walters State then put the clamps on the Apaches for good down the stretch, holding Cochise to just two baskets and five points over the final eight minutes.
“We finally made some shots,” Kragel said. “We went through this game and we were shooting the ball unmercifully, very poorly. But our defense kept us in the game, and that’s something we talk about all the time with our team. It was a total group effort or us to get to this point.”
Deezha Battle led the Apaches with 11 points and Jasmine Coleman chipped in 10. But Cochise also committed 19 turnovers that led to 18 points for the Lady Senators, and Walters State used 17 offensive rebounds to get 17 second-chance points.
Conversely, the Apaches defense held the Lady Senators down in the first and third quarters, surrendering just 18 points total combined in the two periods. But the Lady Senators rallied in both the second quarter to grab a 30-27 halftime lead and in the fourth quarter to rally, then pull away, when it mattered most.
“It’s just disappointing,” Cochise coach Laura Hughes said. “We had a good lead in the third and fourth quarters, but we could never seem to get into a rhythm on offense. Give them credit, they are a good team, they are very well coached and they scouted us really well, and their pressure really affected us from being able to execute and get good offensive looks. We struggled to get good offensive looks and too many turnovers, and too many missed free throws.”
Having not played since the regional tournament, Cochise looked like the fresher team coming out of the gate. The Apaches opened the game on a 9-3 run and led 17-11 early in the second quarter before Walters State made its first push.
A putback by Tamia Currey kickstarted a 6-0 spurt that tied the game at 17 with just over five minutes left in the first half. The teams traded buckets and free throws from there, the lead changing six times in the first half, before layups on consecutive possessions by Gazmyne Herndon and Jessica Wallis gave the Lady Senators a 30-27 lead at the intermission.
Herndon led the Lady Senators with five first half points, while Isabel Rodriguez had the same amount to pace Cochise.
A Vujacic 3-pointer gave Walters State a 35-29 lead early in the third quarter, but the Lady Senators would hit just one more bucket the rest of the quarter as Cochise closed the period with a 14-4 run to lead 43-39 heading into the final period.
Cochise then opened the fourth with six straight points, four of which came from Mamita Diagne, to build a 43-39 lead before Walters State came storming back.