GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG will have an opportunity to do something that very few teams are able to do in a given year, finish its season with a postseason victory. The Spartans defeated Milwaukee 59-49 Thursday night at Fleming Gymnasium, advancing to the Championship Game of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
The big win came in front of a raucous home crowd that kept the energy level high throughout the 40 minutes. The announced attendance for the game was 859, the second highest total of the season behind the school-record 1,007 against Presbyterian.
“I’m so thankful for our students,” said head coach Trina Patterson. “There was so much energy, Fleming was fun tonight. I thought the fans helped us to get going quickly and we had a great start. I just want to thank the students for coming out, in addition to our loyal supporters. Our administration did a great job of promoting this game in such a short time to have the energy there.”
UNCG will travel to Houston, Texas for the title game, taking on Rice at 5:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. The Owls defeated the Vandals of Idaho Thursday to move on to the final.
The Spartans received a game-high 20 points from Nadine Soliman, as well as four rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists. Soliman shot 6-of-16 from the field but did a bulk of her damage at the line. The freshman converted eight of her 11 opportunities at the charity stripe.
Senior point guard Bailey Williams continued her strong finish to the season, knocking down 7-of-15 shots to finish with 15 points. Williams also grabbed five boards and dished out a trio of assists.
“Bailey has been phenomenal,” continued Patterson. “She’s a very good one-on-one player. She can drive and she has a pull up jumper so she’s hard to guard. I was so glad she came out aggressive. She didn’t wait for the game to come to her, she took it upon herself to make it happen and that’s what we needed.”
As a team the Blue and Gold made 34.4-percent of its shots, making just one of its 10 attempts from behind the arc. However, the Spartans took full advantage of their foul shots, hitting 16-of-19 attempts, an 84.2 percentage.
The Spartan defense locked down the Panthers, holding Milwaukee to 32.1-percent from the field, including a measly 1-of-21 from three-point range. UWM’s 4.8-percent mark from deep was 30 percentage points below its season average.
“We wanted to make sure that we defended that three-point line,” said Patterson. “Milwaukee has a lot of great shooters, they have four or five players that shoot threes at a high rate. We watched a lot of film and felt that our kids were prepared to defend them. We don’t like for teams to get what they like so we wanted to make them become drivers. Our players were really locked in on what the goal was tonight.”
Steph Kostowicz was all over the place early, taking just 16:24 of game time to record a double-double. However, after the blazing start, UNCG held the 6-2 forward to just three points and three boards the rest of the way.
Early on, Williams showed that she came to play. The Virginia native scored the first four points of the game and finished the first quarter tallying six points and three rebounds as UNCG took a 14-10 lead into the second. The two teams went back-and-forth in the second stanza, with the Spartans taking a 31-29 advantage into halftime.
Williams and Kostowicz led all scorers with 13 apiece, while Soliman chipped in nine points for the Spartans.
In the third, the Spartans turned up the heat on their press and the Panthers started to crack under the pressure. UNCG turned UWM over nine times in the third, including six in the first three minutes of the period. The press paid dividends as the Spartans out scored Milwaukee 8-2 in points off turnovers in the third.
“We know it’s a matter of time with our press,” stated Patterson. “We work on it, we know it’s going to happen and we make adjustments. Our players really work at creating turnovers. We know we aren’t all that big, we’re a smaller team. We can’t allow for teams to come down in the half court and just throw it inside. We did a good job of doubling players and helping off for our forwards when they needed it.”
With a seven-point lead in hand, UNCG iced the game in the fourth at the charity stripe. The Blue and Gold drained 7-of-8 attempts at the line and out-rebounded the Panthers 13-6 in the frame to close out the contest and advance to Sunday’s title game.
Whether the campaign finishes with a win or loss Sunday, the Spartans have a lot to be proud of this season.
“To be playing this late in March is an awesome thing,” concluded Patterson. “Hopefully it’s practice for us to do some special things. To finish with a championship this year would be wonderful and it helps to prepare us. Playing games in March helps everybody. It gives the freshman more experience and it gives confidence to the seniors. Our seniors should be proud of all they’ve done to help ignite the culture of the program.”