March 9, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - If there is one thing that history shows us, it is that it often repeats itself. On Friday morning in the FedEx Forum, the third-seeded Tulane University women's basketball team lived up to that adage as the Green Wave earned their third-straight appearance in the Conference USA Championship title game with a 63-44 semifinal win over host and second-seeded Memphis.
Tulane fell behind 9-3 but battled back to take a 16-15 lead with 7:59 to play in the first half and trailed just once the rest of the way. With the win, Tulane improves to 22-9 on the year and will face regular-season C-USA champion UTEP on Saturday, and the winner of that game will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network. Memphis, meanwhile, falls to 24-7 on the year and will have to wait until Monday to learn its postseason fate.
"You look at these stats, and it was just such great contributions from players on our team that really came out to play," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "Our goal was that we just wanted to play tough. We just really wanted to go out there and play tough and leave it out there, and I think we did that. I don't think you get anywhere without great leadership, and I'm sitting here looking to the one on my right in Olivia Grayson...I think that says a lot about who leads this team and shows us how to win. That was just a great performance by this team. It's the second of a back-to-back (games). I'm just really excited to be playing in the finals again."
Grayson headlined the Tulane attack with 18 points and 14 rebounds while chipping in with five assists and a trio of steals. Freshman guard Danielle Blagg was next with 14 points and Janique Kautsky followed with eight. Junior guard Tyria Snow tied Grayson with a team-best three thefts.
As a team, the Green Wave hit 37.1 percent of their field goals (23-of-62) and held the Tigers to a .283 clip (17-of-60). Despite playing without senior center Brett Benzio - who was limited to 16 minutes due to foul trouble - Tulane out-rebounded Memphis, 50-41, and turned 15 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points. The Wave forced 16 turnovers - including nine via steal - and had 24 points in the paint to the Tigers' 22.
"Before the game, I told the team to just leave it all out there on the court, and I can't tell them to do that if I don't do it," Grayson said. "It's one-and-done, and I don't want to leave here without a championship."
Memphis jumped out to a nine-point lead 6:10 into the ballgame and held a 13-8 advantage at 13-8 with 11:30 to go before the break. Tulane, however, responded with a 5-0 run to tie things up and the two teams traded the next 14 points. With the score knotted at 20-all, Blagg sparked an 11-2 Green Wave run with a 3-pointer to give her team a lead it would not relinquish and Tulane went into the locker room at halftime on top, 31-24.
The Green Wave lead swelled to as many as 19 at 49-30 on a Grayson bucket with 12:12 to play, and Memphis rallied with a 6-0 run before Tulane reserve Jamie Kaplan halted a four-and-a-half minute scoring drought with a layup with 7:35 to go to make it 51-36. From there, Tulane allowed just three more field goals and hit five of its six free-throw opportunities over the final six minutes to keep the Tigers at arms' reach. Redshirt-freshman guard Katye Magee drained a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining to account for the final score.
"Going into this game, I felt like we had to score," Stockton said. "Memphis is such a good offensive team. I really didn't think we could hold them that low. When (Brett) Benzio got in foul trouble, we went to a zone, and that was really affective against them. That allowed us to play some smaller players, but our defense really has gotten us where we are.
"I look at yesterday's game against ECU, and I thought our defense was really good. I think that's been what we've built everything on. I was really impressed today. You talk about defense, but you look at the rebounding numbers. Out-rebounding them by nine was just huge in order not to give Memphis extra opportunities."
C-USA Player of the Year Jasmine Lee paced Memphis with 13 points and 12 rebounds and second-team all-league guard Brittany Carter was next offensively with 11 points. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir led all players with six assists and shared the Lonlack shared the team lead in steals with Defensive Player of the Year Ramses Lonlack at four each.