NEW ORLEANS — Through two rounds of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament, Xavier University of Louisiana’s second-half field-goal shooting has been a downer — just 24 percent — but the Gold Nuggets’ timing has been perfect.
For the second straight day, the Gold Nuggets used a late surge to survive and advance. They outscored Dillard 13-4 in the final 4 1/2 minutes to grab a 61-53 victory at XULA’s Convocation Center and earn a spot in the championship round for the seventh time in eight years.
Sunday’s scenario will be the same as last season. Third-seeded XULA (19-12) will play top-seeded Talladega (21-8) for the title at 2 p.m. at XULA.
XULA senior reserve center Bianca Brown scored a career-high 15 points Saturday and grabbed 11 rebounds to match her career high. She and Kelsee Singleton, another senior center, had four points and an assist apiece during the closing rally. Adriiana Jackson’s basket at 5:36 gave Dillard (19-9) its final lead, 49-48. XULA scored the next six points, with Brown passing to Singleton for a basket that put XULA ahead to stay, 50-49, with 4:27 remaining.
The Gold Nuggets clinched by making 5-of-6 free throws — three by Mikayla Bates, two by Maya Trench — in the final 23 seconds.
In the first round Friday, XULA outscored Philander Smith 15-4 in the final 4:05 to erase a 61-58 deficit.
“We’ve had too many games this year where we had chances to close the door and did not,” XULA coach Bo Browder said. “It’s been great to see our team step up and respond to that sense of urgency two straight days in the postseason.”
Bates had 11 points and seven rebounds, and teammate Jordan Coleman scored a career-best nine points and had four assists. Singleton had eight points and blocked four shots, all in the first half, to increase her season total to 44. Jayla Nichols didn’t score but grabbed eight rebounds to help the Gold Nuggets win the boards 53-39. Essence Wells was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble but still finished with a career-best four steals and a career-high-tying four assists.
Shaelynn Moore led Dillard with 17 points, two assists, two blocks and two steals. She made all four of the Lady Bleu Devils’ 3-pointers. Jackson and Alexia McDonald scored 10 apiece. The Nuggets limited Alyssa Washington, first-team All-GCAC this season, to four points — her second-lowest total this season — on 2-of-11 from the floor.
XULA led the majority of the game, outscoring Dillard 17-5 in the first 12 minutes and leading 28-19 at halftime. Then the Lady Bleu Devils opened the third quarter with a 15-3 run to take their largest lead, 34-31.
For the game, Dillard shot 33.3 percent from the floor, and XULA shot 32.9 percent. Both teams committed 17 turnovers.
XULA denied Dillard its first 20-win season since 2003-04. Dillard also was seeking two wins in the same season against XULA for the first time since 1984-85.
In the first semifinal, Talladega outscored fifth-seeded Tougaloo 13-2 over 7 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter and held on for a 69-64 victory. Tajanee Wells, the GCAC Player of the Year, had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Tornadoes.