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Lambuth ends history-making season for Lady Bulldogs
Mar 23, 2007 12:00 am
JACKSON — With one of their main offensive weapons sidelined, the rest of Cumberland's shooters struggled against Lambuth's tenacious defense as the Lady Eagles won the NAIA Women's Basketball championship 63-50 Tuesday night at Oman Arena.
With Kiana Robinson on the bench with a torn Achilles' tear, the rest of the Lady Bulldogs shot just 21-of-67 [.313] from the floor in their first NAIA final as Cumberland concluded a 27-8 campaign.
Lambuth didn't shoot much better, just .390. But the Lady Eagles had tournament Most Valuable Player Reggie Maddox, who scored 17 points, pulled down 11 rebounds, passed for eight assists and swiped a pair of steals to keep the NAIA title in Jackson and the TranSouth Conference after crosstown-rival Union won the previous two seasons.
While the Lady Eagles celebrated on the floor in front of their hometown fans, who made up a majority of the estimated 3,500 spectators in the 5,500-seat arena, the Lady Bulldogs were shedding tears in the bowels of Oman Arena.
"Reggie is a great player," said senior point guard Ashley Cross, who won the tournament's Hustle Award. "We knew Reggie would get her points. My goal was to play as much defense on her as I could.
"Our shots just weren't falling. Maybe it was nervousness... I don't know."
Forward C'Kala Humes was another one of Cumberland's six seniors who said farewell with nine points and nine rebounds.
"We couldn't get a bucket, we couldn't get our offense going," Hall said. "Every shot we put up wasn't going in the hole. We were missing free throws [5-of-10 for the night]. It was just a frustrating night for us."
CU shot out to a 10-2 lead before a 19-3 Lambuth spurt put the Lady Eagles ahead to stay.
"We came out with a lot of momentum, but we were a little tired after about the first five or six minutes and our shots were short," Cumberland coach Clint Mason said after his Lady Bulldogs concluded a 27-8 season. "Our defensive effort was tremendous. We held them to 26 points in the first half [trailing 26-22].
"We just couldn't get in a rhythm. We couldn't get a bucket to fall."
Cumberland reeled off seven straight points, capped by a three-pointer by senior Isabelli Cunico, who replaced Robinson in the starting lineup, to bring the Lady Bulldogs within 21-20.
But Kelly Forrest canned a triple on the other end and Tara Robinson got the roll from the foul line to swing the Lambuth lead back to six.
The early moments of the second half went from bad to worse when junior forward Kari Maddox crashed hard to the floor and had to be wheeled off on a stretcher. She was taken to a nearby hospital for observation.
With Maddox gone, her replacement, senior Juliana Fernandes, gave CU a spark with a pair of baskets in a 6-0 run to bring the Lady Bulldogs within 29-28.
The teams traded baskets for a few minutes with Tomika Hall, who had 11 points and 14 rebounds in her CU finale, keeping Cumberland within 34-32.
"We were already down one and then Kari went down and those were two of our big-time players so we knew we had to step up and that was the time, and I guess we ran out of energy," a tearful Renae Williams said.
But a 15-1 Lambuth run sparked by Maddox and Meghan Fuqua, who also finished with 17 points, perched the Lady Eagles, who shot over 52 percent in the second half, in position for their first national basketball title.
"They were able to hit some big shots down the stretch and I give a lot of credit to them," Mason said. "They got a great team and it was good to see two unfamiliar candidates in the final."
Cunico tossed in 10 points, hitting two of Cumberland's three treys. Humes and Fernandes each finished with nine, Williams four, Keisha Forrest three and Cross and senior Mariel Ruis two apiece.
Cross and Robinson were named to the All-Tournament first team. Humes and Williams were announced as honorable-mention All-Americas before the game. Williams, Fernandes, Hilary Bauer and Lebanon's Kristin Kirkland were named NAIA Scholar Athletes.
This was the Lady Bulldogs' first trip to the NAIA title tilt, though they did finish second in the 1983 national junior-college tournament. It was their fourth trip to the NAIA nationals, the last three coming under Mason, whose predecessor resigned midway through the 2003 season, leaving a dispirited program behind.
Though Cumberland was expected to return to the nationals, the Lady Bulldogs beat the Nos. 2- and 1-ranked teams to make a surprise appearance in the finals.
"I'm proud of my team," Humes said. "This is as far as I've ever went in my whole basketball career. I am proud of myself, but it's not where I wanted to be. I wish I were out there cutting down the net."
Hall said, "I am so glad we came this far. A lot of people didn't expect us to come this far. For us to be runner up is pretty good. Now people are going to recognize Cumberland and see what we have done. I think we did a good job of reaching this far. It's just that we fell short."
Mason said, "I'm very proud of the way we continued, we didn't let down. We came up a little short. But to be where we were at four years ago before we got here and to be where we're at right now, that speaks for itself.
"We have definitely set the bar high for the next few years at Cumberland, these ladies. And that's what I most want to be remembered for, these six seniors set the bar high."
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.