The Valdosta Daily Times
The Lady Blazers needed that one. After losing five of its last six games, the Valdosta State women’s basketball team nearly gave one away, but pulled it out in the end.
After blowing an 18-point first-half lead, the Lady Blazers used a go-ahead 3-pointer from senior Brittany Nelson with 45 seconds remaining and then used suffocating defense inside the final five seconds to earn a 57-56 win over rival North Alabama, the conference’s best tournament-eligible team.
The win was VSU’s first since Jan. 19 and ended a three-game home losing streak.
“The power of hope is always there,” Valdosta State head coach Kiley Hill said. “We hung around just long enough today. I was proud of our kids because we adjusted some things offensively. We got into a rhythm, found some rhythm shots, found a groove and we made some defensive stops when we had to.”
After North Alabama used a 29-11 run to erase VSU’s 18-point lead, knotting the game even at 46-46 midway through the second half, the game remained close and the team’s swapped the lead several times.
Then, with the game tied at 54-54, Nelson found her form and drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 45.6 seconds remaining.
North Alabama responded with a two-pointer down the lane, cutting the score to 57-56. VSU nearly turned the ball over on its following possession, but drew a foul and sent freshman Courtney Sprague to the free throw line.
Sprague missed and gave North Alabama a chance for one final bucket with 5.4 seconds left, but VSU’s defense proved to be too much.
“I was really proud of our kids’ attention to details, especially inside the last two minutes,” Hill said.
Off the Lady Lions’ inbounds pass, four Lady Blazers swarmed UNA point guard Lauren Faris, not allowing her to pass or shoot as time expired.
“I’m a compulsive film watcher,” Hill said. “We kind of knew what concept they’ve done in late game situations, so we tried to counter that with our defensive efforts and how we were going to guard it.”
Nelson led the Lady Blazers with 22 points, while Sprague finished with 14 points as VSU shot 43 percent from the floor on the night.
The Lady Blazers put together one of their best starts to a game they’ve had all season, connecting on seven of their first nine attempts from the floor to grab a 19-9 lead.
Nelson was a major contributor to the hot start. She made her first four field goal attempts to lead the Lady Blazers with 10 points.
“I was very pleased with their focus and how they executed,” Hill said. “We corrected shots and when shots weren’t going, we were aggressive with our attack for second and third chance opportunities.”
The hot shooting start didn’t last forever, though. After making 10 of their first 16 field goals, the Lady Blazers cooled off and only made 3 of their final 13 attempts in the half.
Along with the team, Nelson also cooled off in the remaining first half minutes. After her 4 for 4 start, she missed six of her next seven attempts.
The Lady Blazers’ lead got to as many as 18 points in the first half, coming with 1:18 remaining.
After a UNA free throw, sloppy ball handling by the Lady Blazers allowed the Lady Lions to get a quick three-pointer in transition to close within 14 at half.
UNA’s run continued into the second half when it used a 25-11 run to even the score at 46-46.
VSU visits Alabama-Huntsville Thursday night in Huntsville, Ala.