March 8, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Junior guard Olivia Grayson had a game-high 23 points and freshman Danielle Blagg scored 18 of her 19 points on the strength of six 3-pointers as the Tulane University women's basketball team opened play in the 2012 Conference USA Championship with a 67-51 victory over East Carolina in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at the University of Memphis' Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
Grayson was 6-of-10 from the field - including a 3-for-3 performance from beyond the 3-point arc - and hit all eight of her free throws to lead the Green Wave effort. Blagg's half-dozen treys are tied for the fourth-most in C-USA Championship history. With the win, Tulane improves to 21-9 on the year and advances to take on host and second-seeded Memphis (24-6) in the semifinals on Friday at the FedEx Forum. Tipoff for that game is slated for 10 a.m., and will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. East Carolina, meanwhile, saw its winning streak snapped at four to conclude the 2011-12 season with a 12-19 record.
"I'm certainly very proud of my team today," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "I think we played a team today in East Carolina that has been playing very, very well over the last month and really was a very hot team coming into this tournament. They were certainly going to give us a great game. They are definitely a team that's difficult to turn around and play just because of their offenses. I thought our team did a tremendous job.
"We really wanted to start with our defense and make sure our half-court defense is what they had to play against today. As I just told my team, there are two things that I really liked tonight. I thought that we were tougher than we've been. I thought we played tougher than we have in the last six weeks. I think the other thing is we responded. When they made a run our young team responded. I think that's a good sign for us. I'm really, really happy with the way we played."
As a team, the Green Wave hit 45.7 percent of their shots from the field (21-of-46), including an 11-of-21 performance in the second half. Tulane was 9-of-14 from 3-point land against the Pirates (.643) and hit five of its six attempts from beyond the arc following halftime. Defensively, the Wave held East Carolina to a .317 clip (19-of-60).
Junior guard Tyria Snow joined Blagg and Grayson in double figures, adding 10 points to go with four assists and a pair of rebounds. Grayson paced the squad with six assists and six steals while pulling down five rebounds. Senior center Brett Benzio had a game-best 11 boards and finished one bucket shy of a double-double after sinking three field goals and a pair of free throws.
"It was great to finally be hitting some shots," Blagg said. "I've not been in my best at 3-point percentages the last few games, so this was a huge game for everyone. I knew I had to come out and do something. It just so happened that my 3-point had been falling."
Tulane raced out to a 12-2 advantage 4:32 into the ballgame and never trailed at any point. A Blagg 3-pointer with 3:57 to play in the frame pushed the lead to 11 and a Snow free throw 35 seconds later made it a 29-17 affair. East Carolina, however, scored the final four points of the half on layups by Celeste Stewart and Chareya Smith to cut the Green Wave edge to eight at halftime.
The Green Wave pushed their lead back to double digits on a Grayson bucket to open the second half, but East Carolina rallied with an 8-4 run to make it a six-point affair at 35-29 with 16:39 left in regulation. Tulane responded by scoring 10 of the game's next 12 points to make it a 14-point affair and the lead dipped below 10 just once the rest of the way.
East Carolina made it 52-45 when Shala Hodges drained a 3-pointer with 9:32 on the clock. Grayson followed with a trey of her own while Adesuwa Ebomwonyi and Snow added buckets to make it 59-45 and the Pirates would get no closer than 10 over the final seven minutes.
"You look at our roster and we've got 11 that are playing and five of them are freshmen," Stockton added. "This team has played very, very well when we get our defense set. I thought that yesterday in practice we were able to go over a few things. I thought that they were really focused...We were intense, and I think that we used our length a little bit.
"I thought that was going to be key today. We could just rely on our scoring but we really had to stop them."
Hodges led the Pirates with 10 points while Smith, Stewart and Kristine Mial added nine apiece. Hodges and Smith shared team-high rebounding honors with five each and Stewart paced the club with four steals and three assists.
Following Friday's semifinals, the 2012 C-USA Women's Basketball Championship concludes with the title game at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. The winner of that game will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For ticket information to the remaining C-USA Championship games and admission to future Green Wave home events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office either in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com. The Ticket Office located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.