GREENSBORO, N.C. – Senior Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Md./Old Dominion) earned her school-record 15th double-double of the season on senior day as UNCG women’s basketball defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts 57-54 Saturday evening. The Spartans trailed for 37:44 of the 40-minute contest, but outscored the Catamounts 22-8 in the final quarter, including a 16-4 run over the final 6:40.
UNCG improves to 12-17 and 6-8 in Southern Conference play and has earned the sixth seed in the upcoming SoCon Tournament. Western Carolina falls to 5-24 and 1-13 in SoCon play and will be the eighth seed in the Tournament.
Despite shooting 32 percent from the floor, UNCG turned it on at crunch time, shooting 46 percent over the final 10 minutes. The defense stepped up during the same time frame, holding Western Carolina to just 25 percent shooting from the floor and didn’t allow a field goal over the final six-plus minutes.
Ajemba led the Spartans with 15 points, hitting four from the floor and 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. She led all competitors with 12 rebounds, four offensive and eight defensive. Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt/Mokattam Language School) added 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers. Soliman added four free throws and grabbed four rebounds.
Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) added nine points and grabbed eight rebounds. The Spartans scored 19 points off the bench as Alexis Pitchford (Orlando, Fla./Winter Park) went for eight, Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) added six with Aneka Yelverton (Suffolk, Va./Naval Preparatory Academy) adding five.
"Nothing was easy today and our team played with a lot of heart and desire." Head coach Trina Patterson said, "We made some big shots and big stops. Alexis Pitchford played quality minutes and keyed our run in the fourth by making big shots. Free throw shooting down the stretch by Ije (Ajemba) and Nadine (Soliman) helped us capture the win."
UNCG outrebounded the Catamounts, 40-34 and grabbed 14 offensive boards. That led to the Spartans outscoring Western Carolina 13-7 on second chance opportunities.
Western Carolina took a three-point lead after the first quarter of the game. After an Ajemba jumper cut the lead to 10-9, WCU scored four straight points via a Sherae Bonner layup and a pair of free throws from Lauren LaPlant. Soliman hit two of her four free throws with a minute left in the quarter to cut the lead to 14-11.
Nikki Johnson put the Catamounts up seven after going on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter. UNCG cut it down to four with 1:27 remaining when Soliman dialed one up from long distance, but Johnson countered with a 3-pointer of her own. With time winding down in the half, Pitchford fed Twitty down low who finished to cut the halftime deficit to 28-23.
The third quarter saw Western Carolina run its lead out to the largest of the game at 46-33. The Catamounts used a 9-2 run to take a 36-25 lead with 7:07 remaining before the teams traded points. Ngandjui cut the lead down to seven on a layup with 3:29 remaining. The Catamounts closed the quarter out by outscoring the Spartans 8-4 to take a 46-35 lead headed into the final quarter.
The Spartans rallied to outscore the Catamounts 22-8 in the last ten minutes. Yelverton got UNCG going with a fast break 3-pointer on an assist from Twitty to open the final quarter. Johnson countered with a layup for Western Carolina before Pitchford went on an 8-2 run by herself to cut the lead down to 50-46. Twitty scored five-straight points, including an old-fashioned three-point play to trim the lead down to one before Ajemba sunk two free throws to take a 53-52 lead with 1:09 remaining.
Ajemba sank two more free throws with 37 seconds remaining to go up 55-52. Twitty fouled Bonner with 21 seconds to go and Bonner hit both to cut the lead back down to one. On the ensuing inbound, Allen fouled Soliman who sunk both free throws with 20 seconds left to extend the lead back to three. After a timeout, Johnson tried to lay one in, but Pitchford swatted it away. Western Carolina got the rebound but Pitchford stole the possession away and dribbled out the final five seconds to give UNCG the victory.
Women’s basketball is back in action Thursday as it takes on the Chattanooga Mocs at 5:45 p.m. in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament.