March 15, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - For five minutes, it looked like it was going to be a runaway. Midway through the game, it looked like it was going to be an upset. When the clock finally hit zero, it was the Green Wave who came out on top as the Tulane University women's basketball team defeated Mississippi Valley State, 681-61, in the 2012 WNIT opener on Thursday evening in Fogelman Arena.
Freshman guard Danielle Blagg had a game-high 18 points and the Green Wave duo of senior center Brett Benzio and junior guard Olivia Grayson both posted double-doubles to help spearhead the victory. After going ahead 17-5 to start the game, Tulane trailed 38-35 at the break and were down by four at 40-36 just over two minutes into the second half. From there, the Green Wave went on a 13-7 run over the next five minutes to take a 49-47 it would not relinquish.
With the win, Tulane improves to 23-10 on the year and advances to take on Texas Tech on Sunday in Lubbock, Texas. Tipoff for the game is slated for 2 p.m. Mississippi Valley State, meanwhile, concludes its 2011-12 season with an 18-14 record.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game on both ends," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "Defensively, we did a much better job in the second half. In the first half, we gave up way too many points in transition. Only giving up 23 points in the second half was a much better effort.
"I thought at times we played really fatigued. Whether that's energy, whether that's mental or whatever, there were times after that first five minutes that we just didn't have that same energy out there and that's something that we have to make sure we're ready for on Sunday."
Blagg, who hit four 3-pointers on the night, was one of four Tulane players to finish in double figures as Grayson had 13 and both Benzio and freshman forward Tiffany Dale tallied 12 each. Benzio and Grayson completed their double-doubles with 10 rebounds apiece and Benzio headlined the team with a game-high five blocks. Rookie guard Jamie Kaplan came off the bench to lead the Wave with a career-high seven assists, and Dale posted a team-best three steals.
As a team, Tulane hit 43.1 percent of its shots from the field (25-of-58), including a .471 clip from beyond the 3-point arc (8-of-17). After allowing the Delta Devilettes to hit 16-of-34 field goals (.471) - including a .714 clip from 3-point land - over the first 20 minutes of play, the Green Wave defense held Mississippi Valley State to just eight buckets in the second half.
"We definitely got out on them early and we kind of let off the gas a little bit," Grayson said. "They continued to fight, so I give them props for that. We just gutted it out and got the win."
Tulane got off to a red-hot start, jumping out to a 17-5 lead 4:14 into the ballgame. The Delta Devilettes, however, refused to go away quietly and used a 5-of-7 performance from 3-point distance to outscore the Green Wave 33-18 the rest of the half and go into the locker room at the break on top by three.
After the two teams trading buckets early in the second half, Tulane reclaimed the lead on a Grayson jumper with 11:59 to play. Valley answered with a Brittney Lakes bucket on the ensuing possession to go back up 44-43, but a Benzio layup the next time down the floor to put the home team back on top momentarily. Lenise Stallings drained a 3-pointer to give the Delta Devilettes a 47-45 edge with 9:36 on the clock, but a Dale layup tied things up at 47-all and sparked a 12-0 Tulane run.
The Green Wave led by as many as 11 at 62-51 courtesy of a Blagg trey with 4:35 to go and Mississippi Valley whittled the deficit down to as few as six three times down the stretch. Tulane's run midway through the final frame, however, proved to be the difference in the ballgame.
"In the beginning of the game I definitely missed a lot more than I made, so I'm really happy that I was able to come out and made some in the second half," Blagg said of her three 3-pointers after the break. "You can't get down on the missed shots."
De'Kisha Fondon led the Delta Devilettes with 15 points while Alia Frank and Ka'Neshia Smith had 12 each. Smith led the team with nine rebounds and six assists. Fondon led all players with four steals.