Sunday, March 06, 2005

Western Carolina makes the big dance

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Jennifer Gardner scored a career-high 45 points for Western Carolina in a 97-95 double-overtime win against Georgia Southern for the Catamounts' first Southern Conference tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Gardner, the tournament most valuable player, was 15-of-19 from the floor, 13-of-15 from the foul line and grabbed 13 rebounds for Western Carolina (18-13). It marks the Catamounts' first trip to the NCAA tournament.

Georgia Southern (16-14) went ahead 95-94 on Fallon Lee's jumper with 32.7 seconds left, but Gardner scored inside to retake the lead. Then Lee slipped on the inbounds and lost the ball, and Gardner was fouled with 8.7 seconds left.

She made the second of two free throws, and the Eagles missed at the other end as the buzzer sounded.

Gardner set tournament records for points in a game and in the four-game tournament (106). Catamounts coach Kellie Harper is the first rookie coach to win the tournament.

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