After a rocky start to the 2017-18 campaign, the UNCG women’s basketball team has rattled off two straight wins and now sits at 2-2 in conference play. UNCG (8-11, 2-2 in conference play) defeated Wofford on Thursday, cruising to a 66-51 win in perhaps their most complete game of the year. They wrapped up the week with a thrilling 76-74 double overtime win against Furman on Jan 13 in front of an electric crowd at Fleming Gym.
Senior leader Ije Ajemba—the lone senior on a team that ranks as the youngest in all of Division I—grabbed a school record 21 rebounds to go along with 17 points vs Wofford. Aided by leading scorer Nadine Soliman’s 17 points, including five 3 pointers, the Spartans dominated the Terriers after they cut the Spartan lead to one in the third quarter and coasted to their first conference win of the year. For a team that struggled through their non-conference schedule, it was an important step in the right direction as conference play heats up.
Furman proved to be a pesky team, as the Spartans found out on Saturday afternoon at Fleming Gym. The Paladins jumped out to a 14-6 lead and forced Ajemba and Soliman—unquestionably two of UNCG’s most important players—to sit out most of the first half with foul trouble. Despite that, the Spartans were able to crawl back into the game with their second unit on the court, and eventually took an eight point lead in the second quarter.
“There are different players on the team who have done really well,” UNCG head coach Trina Patterson said after the game. “Like Mangela (Ngandjui) came in a shot fifty percent and almost had a double-double.”
The Spartans owned a four point lead at halftime, but the Paladins came out firing and retook the lead in the third. It would be a cage match from here on out, with each team exchanging blows until the final horn. Back and forth they went, and the Paladins, led by Cierra Carter, who netted 20 points to go along with 13 rebounds, held a five point lead midway through the fourth. A barrage of clutch threes by Soliman and junior guard Brandi Fier gave the Spartans a 64-61 lead with less than two minutes to go. The Paladins managed to tie it and had an opportunity to take the lead, but sophomore point guard Alexus Willey—who played a total of 40 minutes—came out of nowhere to swat away DeAnneisha Jackson’s go-ahead layup attempt. Without a doubt, it was the defensive play of the game.
“That was the game,” Coach Patterson said of the block. “I mean, she makes that, and they win.”
The block was surely extra sweet for Willey, whose aunt, Jackie Carson, is the head coach of Furman.
“The cool thing about this game for Alexus Willey is that her aunt is the head coach,” Coach Patterson said. “Her whole family is here, and we beat them twice last year so she is 3-1 against them.
With the game tied at 64, UNCG had the ball and a chance to win with 14.4 seconds left, but Soliman’s last second attempt rimmed out and the teams headed to overtime. Ajemba, who played the last fifteen or so minutes with four fouls, asserted her dominance in the two overtime periods. She scored eight of her 15 points in the two overtime periods and finished with a huge 15 point, 12 board double-double—which puts her at a school record ten double doubles on the year. A pair of Ajemba and Soliman free throws in the second overtime sealed the win, and the Spartans are now right back on track with a .500 conference record. It was an important game for a young team that showed toughness, resilience, and an insatiable hunger to win.
“I’m just really proud of the heart (that UNCG showed). We’re a really young team and we could’ve easily rolled over,” Coach Patterson said. “So plays like diving for loose balls… those are the kinds of plays that we’re growing with. This was probably a growth game for us.”
Next up, the Spartans hit the road to take on Mercer. They will be back in Fleming on Feb. 1 vs ETSU.