NEW ORLEANS — Whitney Gathright scored 19 points Saturday and sparked a first-quarter run that carried Xavier University of Louisiana to a 73-55 women’s basketball victory against Edward Waters in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament at XU’s Convocation Center.
The Gold Nuggets (21-11), seeded third, will play top-seeded Talladega for the championship at 2 p.m. Sunday at Xavier. Talladega, ranked 15th in NAIA Division I, beat fifth-seeded SUNO 73-65 in the other semifinal.
Gathright scored seven points and had an assist to help Xavier take a 14-2 lead through four minutes. The Gold Nuggets led by double digits thereafter and held their largest lead, 52-25, when Gathright made two free throws at 5:47 of the third quarter.
Trana Hopkins scored 15 points for Xavier, and Alesha Smith scored 10.
Jermisha Collins scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Edward Waters (21-9), the No. 2 seed, and Valerie Hill scored 10.
Xavier outshot Edward Waters 44.6 to 36.7 percent from the floor and made 19-of-21 free throws to the Lady Tigers’ 7-of-11.
Xavier reached the GCAC’s tourney final for the sixth time in seven years and the 12th time in Bo Browder’s 17 seasons as head coach. The title-game matchup with Talladega will be their third in five years; the Gold Nuggets defeated the Lady Tornadoes in 2012 and 2014.
(15) Talladega (23-4, 11-1 GCAC) vs. Xavier (21-11, 7-5) (Tip-off 2:00 PM CT): Talladega enters the final having won 13 of their last 14 games, including a pair of seven-point wins over Xavier. The Lady Tornadoes rank third in the NAIA in rebound margin, ninth in scoring margin, and ninth in defensive rebounding. They are led by All-GCAC First Team selections Shakeena Benton and Tajanee Wells. Benton, the GCAC Player of the Year finished third in the conference in scoring at 16.9 points per game while shooting just over 49 percent from the floor. Wells was fifth in scoring average (15.9) and sixth in rebounding (6.8). Talladega is seeking its first tournament championship. Xavier is playing for its eighth GCAC tournament championship. The Gold Nuggets have won seven of their last 10 games, including four in a row. Xavier, currently unranked, was ranked as high as ninth earlier this season. The Nuggets went 7-5 in conference play and finished 4-5 against teams ranked in the NAIA Division I Top 25. Xavier had its toughest time away from home, going 11-8 on the road. They are led by a pair of All-GCAC selections. Senior Whitney Gathright is a three-time selection who averaged 13.9 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.1 steals. Donyeah Mayfield posted averages of 11 points and 7.4 rebounds. Xavier ranks fifth nationally in three-point field goal defense and 10th in total steals.
Season Series, Talladega won 2-0
1/16 Talladega 54, Xavier 47
1/25 Talladega 62, Xavier 55
Shakeena Benton, 16.9
Whitney Gathright, 13.9
Tajanee Wells, 6.7
Donyeah Mayfield, 7.4
Sashanique Youngblood, 2.4
Whitney Gathright, 4.4
Shakeena Benton, 1.2
Whitney Gathright, 2.1
Jordin Feldman, 0.6
Donyeah Mayfield, 1.07