SAN ANTONIO – Aslea Williams celebrated another championship Friday and this time, her coach, Jacques Curtis was right along with her. This was the big one. This one was why this senior post was recruited to Shaw. And this one was for the ages.
Williams’ oh-so-timely baskets late and stellar guard play throughout helped the Lady Bears beat Ashland in overtime 88-82 to win the Division II women’s championship.
|DIVISION II TOURNAMENT|
|• Championship Recap|
|Ashland vs. Bentley | Recap|
|Shaw vs. Rolins | Recap|
|Turner: Daughtery goes off|
|Turner: Losses speerhead finalists|
|Farnum: Making impact eveywhere|
|• Championship Info|
Finally, Williams can express her unbridled glee at a team accomplishment without drawing the ire of Curtis. You see, last year after Shaw won the CIAA championship, Williams was beside herself with joy — until she got in the locker room afterward.
“The comment I made to them then was I didn’t bring you here to win the CIAA,” Curtis said. “I brought you here to win the national championship. [Williams] was like, this is my first championship that I’ve won, so I’m going to be happy we won the championship. Now, we’ve got what I brought her here to do. That was the goal.”
Early on it looked like if Shaw (29-6) was going to win, it was going to do it with minimal input from Williams. Ashland was keenly aware of Shaw’s inside dominance throughout the tournament and figured its best way to counter it was smother Williams and Shaw’s other post players and contest every shot.
“With a team like this you have to defend the inside game,” Ashland head coach Sue Ramsey said. “And there are some things you have to sacrifice. We wanted to pack the paint a little bit to make it harder to get the ball in. Then they started hitting the 10-12 foot range shot. We have to make sure we come out and contest that as well.”
For sure Ashland’s plan was highly effective until the “they” Ramsey spoke of – Shaw’s forgotten folks, its guards – took over. They were why Shaw was able to withstand a killer 20-point first half from Ashland’s Jena Stutzman and trailed only by 11 points at 43-32.
The half could not have been more horrible for Williams. She was totally bottled up. Her contribution was three rebounds, 0 for 4 from the field and one free throw.
“I pretty much stunk it up,” Williams said. “I know my shots were not falling in the beginning. I wasn’t getting a lot of touches because they were cramming it down inside. But I still felt we were OK.”
So did Curtis. He thought that Williams, Kyria Buford and Crystal Harris going a combined 2-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds and seven points boded well for Shaw. There was nowhere for them to go but up.
“Really, they should have put us away in the first half. “We weren’t worried we were down. We wanted to make sure we could still see them. We didn’t want them to get too far ahead that we could not run them down. We wanted to be close enough to where they could see us in their rear view mirror.”
Ashland (33-2) found out the hard way that the objects in their mirror were indeed closer than they appeared.
Williams’ layup, her first points of the game capped an 11-2 second-half start for Shaw and pulled it to within two at 45-43. That Williams even got the ball was because Sequoyah Griffin and Brittney Spencer were loosening up the Ashland defense with jumpers. It allowed Williams to settle in momentarily.
“I kept thinking if our guards will keep hitting their shots, it will open up for us,” Williams said. “It’s so much easier when you start making shots. When you miss and run up and down the floor, you get tired. When you make shots, you feel a little more pumped up. We got pumped up.”
Curtis, in efforts to keep his team fresh, shuttled players in and out. And while Shaw made its most important run, one that pulled it within a point of Ashland 69-68 with 1:16 to go, Williams was planted on the bench. And wearing Curtis’ ears out.
“She was at the end of the bench saying, ‘Put me in, coach. Put me in. I got heart, I can make it happen.’ That’s the kind of kid she is.”
So it was here that Curtis replaced Harris with Williams and she made the two biggest baskets of her life on back-to-back possessions that put Shaw ahead by three with 24.3 seconds left.
Then Stutzman happened. This senior guard drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to send the game into overtime. She finished with a game-high 32 points.
“We didn’t mind playing five more minutes,” Curtis said. “We had the energy to keep playing. We were prepared to play three overtimes as long as we keep playing. We felt like it was to our advantage to keep playing.”
Williams owned the overtime scoring five in Shaw’s 7-2 run to start the extra session and it never looked back.
“I knew in crunch time I had to show up,” Williams said, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I was a little winded, but I was playing good defense and wanted to come back in and help my teammates. This was a great way to go out.”