Uniontown, PA - The Johnson & Wales Wildcats put forth a heroic effort in defense of their 2018 national title, as forty minutes weren't enough to decide a winner aginst top seeded Villa Maria. A fourth quarter rally forced overtime, where the Vikings prevailed 66-62.
Villa Maria (25-2) jumped out to an early 12-3 lead thanks to a pair of Shaquana Owens three pointers. The Wildcats (17-9) answered with a 16-0 run of their own keyed by Bianca Covington's six first quarter points. JWU doubled their two point first quarter advantage in the first five minutes of the second after Kayla Kent banked in a three pointer as the shot clock was winding down. Villa Maria closed the half with a strong 14-3 spurt that saw them head into the locker room with a 37-31 advantage.
The Vikings extended that halftime lead by scoring the first six points of the third quarter. Their 43-31 lead at the 6:34 mark of the period would be their largest, and the largest by either team in the game. Johnson & Wales worked hard, led by their top three scorers, Covington, Chase Muhammad, and Ineesha Hankerson to whittle the lead to Viking lead to 3, 47-44, as the final stanza began.
Shamecca Minor's three just over a minute into the fourth extended Villa's lead to seven. Hankerson took control from this point, scoring twice from the field and converting four free throws to put JWU up 54-53, their first lead in over seventeen minutes of game time. Bianca Covington added three points down the stretch to keep JWU within one possession, before Hankerson was fouled with nine seconds to play with the Wildcats down 2. She calmly converted both free throws and Jada Morgan blocked Villa's last second layup attempt.
Hankerson scored the first bucket of the extra period to briefly put JWU ahead, but the Wildcats went cold from the field from that point. Villa Maria converted three free throws in the final minute to secure the win and a spot in tomorrow's championship game against #2 seed Central Maine.
Muhammad led the Wildcats with 18 points on the day. She also grabbed 7 rebounds, handed out four assists, and tallied 5 steals. Covington, in her final collegiate game recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Hankerson scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half and overtime. She also pulled down 20 rebounds in the game.