The victory ended a 22-year drought in the championship game for the Red Wolves and will be the program’s second appearance in school history in the SBC Championship game. Its last appearance was during the 1991-92 season and the team went on to finish third in the National Women’s Invitational Tournament.
The top-seeded Red Wolves (22-10) will take on No. 2 Western Kentucky at 8 p.m. Saturday. This is the second time that A-State has played the Lady Toppers in the SBC Championship. The game be seen on ESPN3.com and heard on 95.3FM The Ticket/970AM KNEA.
Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble and senior forward Carlisha Wyatt led Arkansas State to victory with a pair of double-double performances. Gamble led all scorers with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Wyatt recorded the second double-double of her career with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“I am certainly proud of this group for the win today,” A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. “The bottom line is we competed, battled all those things. It was a similar game to when we played at their place early this year, they really attacked us hard offensively early on and got us on our heels a little more than I would have liked.”
After a slow start that put Arkansas State in a 13-10 deficit, A-State caught fire and finished the final 10 minutes with a flurry. Wyatt connected on her third basket of the half on a spinning, fade away shot that sparked an 11-0 run for the Red Wolves.
Gamble followed with a pull up jumper and Morrill poked an entry into the post away on the defensive end that led to an easy basket for the Red Wolves in transition for a 19-15 lead with 4:27 remaining in the half.
The advantage grew to 24-15 with over a minute to go. The Arkansas State defensive effort was in full stride during the run as well. The Bobcats went 0-for-8 from the field with seven turnovers for nearly six minutes before finally scoring a basket with eight seconds to go in the period to set the halftime score at 24-17.
The moment carries over into the second half thanks to a pair of mid-range jumpers from Brittney Gill to push the lead to 29-19 just two minutes into the half. Wyatt brought the A-State crowd to its when she caroled a loose ball and called timeout before stepping out of bounds to save the possession.
The 6-0 senior from Bryan, Texas did most of her damage in the second wreaked havoc on the Bobcat’s interior defense with her physical effort. She scored eight points and had nine rebounds in the final frame, while also knocking down 6-of-10 free throws in the period.
The Bobcats were plagued with foul trouble in the second half and played a large portion of the game without its Second-Team All-Conference forward Ashley Ezeh after she committed her fourth foul with 17 minutes left in the game. That allowed Wyatt to get position inside and post-up her defender and grab eight defensive rebounds on the night.
Arkansas State led by double-figures for much of the second half, but never pulled away from the Bobcats. The lead was cut to 35-26 when Texas State’s split the Red Wolves defense’ with an easy layup with 9:45 to go, but Wyatt knocked down two free throws on the next offensive possession and the lead never dipped to single digits.
Gamble also had a big second half with 11 points and did most of her work at the free throw line. The sophomore guard went 7-of-10 from the charity stripe in the second half, including 3-of-4 in the final 1:10 to secure the victory.
Arkansas State shot 37.7 percent from the field (20-53) and was 62.1 percent (18-29) from the field, while Texas State was held to just 27.6 percent (16-58) shooting. A-State held a 40-37 edge on the boards and had a 28-18 advantage in points in the paint.
“If there was ever a game where you truly win because of your defense this was one of them,” Boyer said. “I am just looking at the stats thinking how does that happen? We go 1-of-8 from three you had Hanna with three points and Jane with two and that’s two of your better scorers.
“We just got a lot of stops and it was kind of buying time for our offense. Fortunately, we were able to get it inside. Carlisha was able to get inside. Second half they did switch to man a few possessions, you just see Gamble’s eyes light up when that happens. They went to man a few possessions and that is when she was able to take over.”
Both teams came of the gate strong and the game had three lead changes in the first four minutes before either Texas State had a scoring drought that tallied four-plus minutes but A-State was not able to widen its leads beyond 10-6. Texas State responded with a 7-0 run after the second media timeout, but A-State closed out the half with its run to retake the lead.
Arkansas State will next play in the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament in New Orleans, La., at Lakefront Arena March 15. Follow @AStateGameDay on Twitter for in-game updates and stay up to date with A-State women’s basketball by following the team on Twitter (@AStateWB), Instagram (AStateWBB) and Facebook (Facebook.com/RedWolvesWBB).
(Courtesy: ASU Sports Information)
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