March 9, 2009

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -Western Carolina coach Kellie Harper drew a deep breath as she arrived for her post-game press conference minutes after her Lady Catamounts won the longest Southern Conference championship game in history.

"I'm worn out," she said. "What a game. I'm really not even sure exactly what happened at any point."

After trailing by as many as 15 points early in the second half, Western Carolina (21-11) hung on through three overtimes to beat College of Charleston 101-87 on Monday.

The Lady Catamounts have played in three straight Southern Conference title games and five of the last six, but it was just their second win. They last earned the conference's automatic NCAA tournament bid in 2005, Harper's first year as coach.

Tied at 85 at the end of the second overtime, Brooke Johnson scored seven of her team-high 21 points during the third OT, including five free throws. Johnson also grabbed 13 rebounds.

The performance helped earn her the tournament's most outstanding player award.

Lauren Powell added 19 points for Western Carolina. Emily Clarke added 18, Kristen Feemster had 15, and Heather Swayne had 12.

A minute into the second half, Western Carolina trailed 40-25. The Lady Catamounts used 57.7 percent shooting to chip at the Cougars' lead and tied it at 51 on an Emily Clarke free throw with 8:44 left.

"I think we were all kind of disoriented on offense (in the first half), and I think in the second half we just calmed down and moved more," Powell said.

Western Carolina led the rest of the way in regulation until Tonia Gerty hit a layup for College of Charleston (23-8) with 2 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

The Lady Catamounts needed two free throws by Powell after being fouled by Brooke Kotcella with a second left in the first overtime period to stay alive.

Both teams had a shot to grab the win in the final minute of the second overtime period, but College of Charleston's Jade Hughes missed a layup with 19 seconds left and Clarke missed a jumper at the other end with a second left.

"Really what we tried to do is keep encouraging them because they were playing so well and playing so hard," Cougars coach Nancy Wilson said.

Gerty led College of Charleston with 20 points. Hughes scored 19, Sarah Moye had 18 and Deidra Jones had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"It was right there for the taking we just couldn't quite come up with all the points," the Cougars' Moye said.