Xavier senior point guard Whitney Gathright didn’t want to relive the feeling she experienced after last year’s Gulf Coast Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament championship game, when the Gold Nuggets left their home court crying after losing to Southern-New Orleans.
So Gathright took matters into her hands in Saturday’s final against No. 1 seed Talladega, scoring 25 points in leading Xavier to a 75-68 victory.
“I knew my I needed to come out and score for my team,” said Gathright who shot 7-of-8 from the field, made nine of 10 free throws and has six assists four rebounds and three steals. “I knew they were going to play tough defense on me, but I wanted to get a ring for my coach. It means everything to win they championship in my senior year.”
Xavier earned the GCAC’s automatic bid to the NAIA tournament in Independence, Missouri, with the first round beginning March 16-17. Seedings and pairings will be announced Wednesday.
It was the second championship in three seasons for the Gold Nuggets (22-11) and seventh in 12 seasons under coach Bo Browder. Gathright, who averaged 19.7 points in the tournament, was selected MVP for the second time in three seasons.
Talladega (23-5), ranked 15th in NAIA, won the regular-season title, beating Xavier both times this season. Coach Kevin Herod pointed to his team’s 19-of-33 free-throw shooting as a main reason the Tornadoes were unable to win their first GCAC tournament crown.
“It’s been a problem for us all season,” Herod said. “Missing all those free throws put us in a position of having to fight from behind nearly all game.”
Xavier made all seven of its free throws in the half. More important, it shot 48.1 percent, including 5-of-7 on 3-point attempts, with Gathright scoring 16 points.
Xavier forward Bianca Brown scored eight of her 10 points during a two-minute span in the fourth quarter to give the Nuggets a 66-49 lead at the 5:51 mark.
Talladega stormed back with a 13-2 run, coming to 68-62 with 1:21 left. From there, however, Xavier, sank seven free throws.
Xavier’s defense against Talladega two-time first-team All-GCAC guard/forward Tajanee Wells was a factor. Wells, who averages 16 points and seven rebounds, was held to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
“We used a lot of players against her (Sunday) and varied what we did,” Browder said. “Sometimes we fronted her, and we made sure someone was on her at all times, especially behind the 3-point line.”
However, the biggest factor was Gathright.
“She’s an All-American,” Browder said. “She’s special. She was really zoned in during this tournament.”