The USA South championship game featured the top two scoring teams in the conference and many expected a shootout. Instead it turned into a defensive struggle, one the Christopher Newport Captains clawed their way to a 53-47 win over the Greensboro Pride to capture their third straight conference title.
The Captains (25-3) stayed in the game despite an ugly 32.1 percent shooting from the floor. They dug in on defense and according to coach Carolyn Hunter, they won with grit and heart.
The turning point of the game was when Greensboro star Danielle Duncan went to the bench with her fourth foul. The Pride was up 41-38 with 10:17 to play.
Christopher Newport went on a 10-2 run over the next four minutes and never trailed again.
"I think for them it looked like they lost some composure," Hunter said. "We decided we were going to go inside and get things happening. I think it helps us. She's a great player and she was controlling the middle. With her out of there we were able to do some things."
With Duncan out, the Captains scored on three lay-ups, a runner and a follow shot as they controlled action in the paint.
Greensboro (26-2) brought Duncan back in the game with 6:11 remaining but the Pride could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
Duncan had her way early, scoring 12 points in the first seven minutes. It looked like Christopher Newport was in big trouble when center Barbara Davis went to the bench with her second foul at the 13:13 mark.
But Lauren Gural slid over to cover Duncan and was the unsung star of the game with an outstanding defensive effort, despite giving up 3 inches and roughly 20 pounds in the post.
"Lauren has been tremendous for us all year, usually guarding the other team's best post player," Hunter said. "That's what she does well, defend. She's got the heart to do it and we count on her definitely to do it for us."
Early in the game, Gural brought great energy and was a key ball handler and rebounder before she was shifted over to guard Duncan.
"It's definitely a challenge but I just know that I have to work my hardest down there, get in front of her and do the best I can," Gural said.
The Captains faced a nine-point deficit when Davis went to the bench but they went to halftime trailing by just three, 30-27. Duncan had just six more points the rest of the half with Gural defending her.
Chelsie Schweers was held to 4-for-17 shooting on the day, but she was a major presence on defense, as her ball-hawking ways kept the Pride from getting into their offense in the second half.
"That's not the usual thing for her, but she knew that she was going to have to play defense tonight and that was not going to be an easy thing," Hunter said of Schweers. "That's what we talked about at the half. Let's do the things we can do. If the shot comes it comes but you can help us in other ways."
Schweers, who finished with 14 points, was named MVP of the tournament, the third straight year she has taken the award.
Davis and Jessica Moore (14 points) joined Schweers on the all-tournament team.
Duncan, who also grabbed all-tourney honors, finished with a game-high 23 points to lead Greensboro.