CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Te’Ja Twitty narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds, and led three UNCG players in double figures in a 66-42 victory over Southern Conference foe Western Carolina in women’s basketball action on Saturday evening at the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee.
Twitty, who finished 8-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-2 at the charity stripe, also pulled down five of the team’s 12 offensive rebounds in the process. She was joined in double-digit scoring by Nadine Soliman (16 points) and Aja Boyd (12). Amesha Miller and Alexus Willey combined for 15 points off the bench, scoring nine and six points, respectively.
Soliman wrapped up the game by knocking down 5-of-15 from the floor, 2-of-6 from beyond the arc and was successful on 4-of-5 at the free throw line. Boyd shot 50 percent (5-of-10) from the floor, grabbing six rebounds (four defensive) and blocked two shots.
The Spartans improved to 10-17 overall and 4-8 in league play by hitting 25-of-62 (40.3%) from the floor and 13-of-15 (86.7%) at the charity stripe. UNCG hit at least 35 percent from the field in three of its four quarters, including a 55.5 percent performance (10-of-18) in the opening frame.
Defensively, Western Carolina (4-23, 0-12 SoCon) was limited to 15-of-51 (29.4%) shooting from the floor, hitting seven of those shots from beyond the arc at a clip of 36.8 percent. Judith Martin-Ruiz led the way for the Catamount offense with 20 points, while Jewel Smalls came off the bench to score 11.
“This is a tough league and teams usually shoot better at home, but this team did not,” said UNCG head coach Trina Patterson. “We focused on defense throughout the week. Our primary focus was on help side defense and we did a really good job of executing on offense. They did a good job of trying to counter some of our set,s by double teaming and leaving certain players, but we did a good job of moving Soliman at the point.
“We are a very good free throw shooting team and that was not our typical performance in the last game against Samford,” added Patterson. “We came into this game fourth in the conference and at one point we were first, so that is not us that was a lack of focus. We have to get our big three of Te’Ja, Nadine and Aja to take a bulk of the shots on offense, but having Amesha come off and score down low with a very good high-post game is valuable. Alexus came in and hit some big 3-pointers for us and she been really working on that shot and it showed today.”
UNCG separated itself with a 20-point third quarter, hitting 6-of-17 (35.3%) from the field and converting all six free throw attempts, stretch the lead to 51-34. After a 3-pointer by Martin-Ruiz cut the lead to seven, the Spartans scored five unanswered, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Soliman, to move in front 36-24.
Western Carolina managed to trim the lead to 36-27 with 5:01 remaining, but four points by Soliman and three by Willey keyed a 7-0 run by the Spartans, who pushed in front by 16. The scoring tandem of Soliman and Willey combined for six points over the final 2:11 of the quarter as UNCG lead 51-34 through three periods.
Continuing to apply defensive pressure while receiving three points from Miller, UNCG extended its lead to 56-34 inside the first three minutes of the fourth. The Catamounts briefly cut the lead to 19, but a 7-0 run by UNCG that included four points by Twitty and three from Soliman, closed the door on a Western Carolina rally.
The Spartans established themselves early, jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter behind a pair of buckets by Boyd. Soliman found her rhythm on offensive, draining a 3-pointer and adding a bucket in fast break, while Boyd added four points in the paint to extend the UNCG lead to 19-7 with 3:59 left in the frame.
Just under a minute later Miller connected on a jumper to give the Spartans their largest lead of the first quarter, 21-7. Western Carolina retaliated by scoring three of the next five points to close the quarter, with Miller accounting for the two Spartan points, to make for a 23-10 UNCG lead.
Boyd got the Spartans’ offense in the early stages of the second quarter with four points, while Twitty and Cece Crudup added two points each to stretch the UNCG lead to 29-12 with just under six minutes remaining. Western Carolina amped up its defensive pressure, holding the Spartans to two points, while the offensive took advantage of four points by Smalls and a 3-pointer off the hand of Martin-Ruiz to make for a 31-21 UNCG lead at the intermission.
The Spartans conclude the regular season next weekend when they face Chattanooga (Feb. 28) and ETSU (March 2) at Fleming Gym.