Update: 3/5//2013 11:16 AM CST BY TOM JOYNER FOUNDATION
Atlanta, Ga.—The Clark Atlanta University Lady Panthers captured the 2013 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) women’s basketball championship title after a 75-58 win over top seed Benedict College Saturday at Morehouse College’s Frank L. Forbes Arena.
The win secured Clark Atlanta’s first SIAC Tournament Championship since 1999 and fifth in school history. It is also CAU’s seventh conference championship in the last four years including its second this season.
“I am so proud of our ladies and especially our coaches and seniors because they have prepared for this moment all season and put in the work to win,” said CAU Athletic Director Dr. Tamica Smith-Jones.
After winning her first conference championship during her 10-year tenure, Clark Atlanta Head Coach Vanessa Moore said afterwards that she knew her team was special.
“It is always one of our three goals: academics first, championships, and community service off the floor,” said Moore who was named Coach of the Tournament. “But I think that we really put it all together this year. The team was mature. I knew it would be tough, and we went through hard knocks throughout the season. But, in the way that we played some of our non-conference games, I knew that we had a good team. There was never a doubt. Every time we walked off the floor, we earned a little bit more respect.”
How the Lady Panthers Won
The Lady Panthers controlled the pace of the game from the start as they opened a 22-8 lead at the 12:13 mark behind the play of point guard Conisha Hicks who scored six of her 12 first half points during this time. For the next seven minutes CAU went cold from the floor while the Lady Tigers took advantage of the opportunity and orchestrated a 14-2 run that trimmed the lead to two points, 22-24. In a game of runs, the Lady Panthers extended their lead as they took a 35-25 advantage into halftime. Clark Atlanta capitalized on 12 second chance points and 12 points off turnovers in the period. Senior La’Quisha Lewis, who averaged 15 rebounds per game in the tournament, pulled down 10 rebounds that helped CAU to a 31-22 first period advantage on the glass.
Benedict’s London Richardson came out of the half with an explosive 12 consecutive points that cut the deficit to two points, 46-44 and gave the Lady Tigers a burst of momentum. Against Benedict’s full-court pressure defense, Hicks used her speed and fearless demeanor to score several transition baskets and to set up her teammates as the double-teams converged on her. As a result, Lewis, the 6-foot-1 center, made her presence known offensively with 11 second half points as CAU pushed its lead to 20 points with three minutes remaining and never looked back.
After a strong defensive showing in the first half, where Clark Atlanta held the Lady Tigers to just 17.9 percent shooting, the Lady Panthers switched up the routine by shooting lights out in the second half as they shot 68.2 percent from the floor.
The Lady Panthers Most Valuable Player
Hicks, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, carried the Lady Panthers offensively while averaging 21 points per game in the tournament and finished with a game-high 20 points in this contest on 8-for-19 from the field while connecting on 3-of-4 attempts from behind the arc. She also finished with a game-high seven assists and five steals.
“My mindset in the tournament has been to play like a champion and be better than I was the previous game,” said Hicks. “To have won the championship is an unbelievable feeling.”
A Lady Panther on the All-Tournament team
Lewis, who was also named to the All-Tournament team, recorded her second consecutive double-double in the tournament, finished with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Senior Shavon Caldwell added 13 points while Denissea Law chipped in 10.
“As a senior it feels really good to out with a bang,” noted Lewis. “Our team played with heart and we all had a common goal to fulfill which was to win the championship and we did that.”After finishing the regular season in second place which earned them a first round bye, the Lady Panthers’ road to the championship began in the quarterfinal round with a 75-69 win over #6E Claflin University Thursday followed by a 65-62 semifinal win against #4 East Fort Valley State Friday.
With the win, Clark Atlanta (19-10) receives an automatic bid to the NCAA South Regional Women’s Basketball Tournament whose seeding will be announced Sunday, March 10th, at 10 p.m., online at www.ncaa.com. This will be the Lady Panthers’ second trip to the regional tournament since 2009.