November 24, 2007

Defense, Free Throws Lead Bulldogs To Miami Thanksgiving Tourney Title

Coral Gables, Fla. - Tara Miller and Candace Jones converted four clutch free throw attempts in the final seven seconds and the Bulldogs used a powerful defensive stand late in the game to claim the University of Miami Thanksgiving Tournament Championship with a nail-biting 62-59 victory over the host Hurricanes on Saturday (Nov. 24) evening at the BankUnited Center.

After Miami took a 54-52 lead with 6:28 to go, the Bulldogs clamped down on the defensive end over the next six minutes, holding the Hurricanes scoreless while using three-straight jumpers to take a 58-54 lead with 18 seconds remaining.

Miami kept things tight in the final seconds, cutting the deficit to two on a lay-up before sending Miller to the line with seven seconds remaining. The junior forward knocked down both attempts to put the Bulldogs back up by four, but a three-pointer by Albrey Grimsley brought the Hurricanes to within one at 60-59 with just over a second left.

Following the inbound by Butler, Miami immediately fouled Jones, who calmly hit her pair of free throw attempts to seal the win despite a desperation half-court attempt by the Hurricanes that fell just short of the rim.

After playing through a somewhat timid first period, the Bulldogs came out on fire in the second, out-scoring Miami 38-31 while shooting 53.6 percent (15-of-28) from the field.

The Bulldogs started the game strong, working a 9-5 lead in the early going, but a four-minute dry spell aided an 8-0 Miami run that quickly put the Hurricanes in front 13-9.

Butler gradually came back, as a jumper by Lade Akande and a pair of free throws by Azjah Bass brought the game back to even at 21-21 before a Miller lay-in gave the Bulldogs their first lead in nearly 14 minutes. The Hurricanes would close the period on a 7-1 run, however, to take a four-point margin into the break.

The Bulldogs came out firing right out of the gates in the second stanza, as Susan Lester welcomed Miami with a three-pointer just 15 seconds into the period before Jones drilled a jumper on the very next trip down the floor to give Butler a 29-28 advantage.

The two squads would battle through six ties over the next 12 minutes despite a dominant four-minute stretch by Akande that saw the junior center score on five-consecutive trips down the floor.

With the Bulldogs trailing 51-49 with less than eight minutes to play, Lester gave Butler a one-point lead with a three-pointer from the top of the key, but Miami's LaToya Cunningham answered right back on the next possession with a three-ball of her own to put the Canes back up by two with six-and-a-half minutes remaining.

That long ball by Cunningham would be the last points recorded by the Hurricanes until the closing seconds, however, as the Bulldogs held Miami to an 0-for-6 clip from the field while rallying back to take their final lead of the night.

Akande led all scorers with 19 points, coming on 8-for-12 shooting from the field, and finished just shy of her first double-double of the year with a game-high nine rebounds. Jones added 14 points, going 4-for-9 from the field and a cool 5-for-6 from the free throw line. Lester added double-figure scoring with 12 points (5-of-9 from the field) and pulled in seven boards.

Akande was named the Tournament MVP after posting 34 points and 17 rebounds in two games, while Jones also earned a spot on the all-tournament team, finishing with 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in the two contests.

The Bulldogs open up a trek of three games in six days on Saturday (Dec. 1) when they take on Indiana State in the State Farm Hoosier Classic beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Athletics-Recreation Center at Valparaiso.