March 13, 2009

Courtesy Delta State Athletics

CLEVELAND, Miss. - Delta State coach Sandra Rushing knew Valdosta State was no ordinary eighth-seed entering the NCAA Division II Women's South Regional. After all, VSU pushed the Lady Statesmen to overtime in the semifinals of last week's Gulf South Conference Tournament.

As a result, Rushing was expecting a close rematch.

This time, Delta State started and finished strong.

Powered by freshman Veronica Walker's game-high 19 points, No. 1 seed Delta State (27-6) advanced to the Regional semifinals with a 58-48 victory over the Lady Blazers (21-9) at Walter Sillers Coliseum. Sophomore Moe Bell had 11 points for the Lady Statesmen. Senior LaMaesha McAdory scored nine points and had 10 rebounds.

Delta State led 38-32 with 11:40 remaining in the second half before Valdosta State closed the gap to two on baskets by Michelle Thompson and Sczeny Hartry. Walker responded with six points, four on free throws, over a two-minute span as DSU was able to grab a 46-38 advantage with just under eight minutes to go. The Lady Blazers later got as close as five at the 6:09 mark, but the Lady Statesmen would put the game on ice with free throws. Delta State shot 18-of-26 from the foul line in the second half, 20-of-30 for the game.

"I tell my players ...we've got to step up there and let's seal the deal," Rushing said. "20-of-30 on our home floor? We can shoot better than that. The nerves were tightened up a little bit. I try not, this time of year, to harp on anything because when the horn goes off, the only thing the people are looking at is the score."

Crucial to Delta State's win was ball protection in the second half. DSU committed 14 turnovers by halftime, but had just three in the second 20. The first-half scenario was similar to the one the Lady Statesmen found themselves in during the first meeting with Valdosta State. DSU turned the ball over 15 times in the first half against the Lady Blazers at the GSC Tournament, yet escaped to win.

"That was the first thing that popped out at me at halftime was 14 turnovers," Rushing said. "We've got to make that extra pass, make the defense work. When we're trying to run the basketball and get it inside, we need to really try to swing it around and make them work."

The Lady Statesmen held Valdosta State to just one point through the first 11 minutes of the game until Leschelle Matthews' jumper made the score 9-3 Delta State. The contest see-sawed to the intermission with DSU leading 23-22.

For the game, Delta State shot 18-of-35 from the field (51.4 percent) and 2-of-3 from 3-point territory. Valdosta State finished 16-of-49 from the floor ( 32.7 percent), 2-of-6 from beyond the arc and 14-of-18 (77.8 percent) at the free throw line. Thompson was the only Lady Blazer in double-figures with 17 points.

DSU will play either Arkansas-Monticello or Rollins in a semifinal game Saturday at 8 p.m. The other semifinal pits Ouachita Baptist against Tampa at 6 p.m.. Monday's championship game is at 7 p.m.