The No. 3 Wolves (16-11) scored right off the opening tip and then went on a 10-0 run to build an early 12-2 lead just over seven minutes into the game, but that’s when shots stopped falling. Sixth-seeded West Alabama (13-14) just started chipping away at the lead until it took it over at 17-15 with just over seven minutes left in the first half and never looked back.
“Early I thought we came out really energized, really playing well. Then even though we were playing well, we had a couple nice passes for wide open 3s that this year we’ve been making those shots. I think we panicked when we went through that stretch a little bit,” UWG coach Scott Groninger said. “I didn’t know if we were going to score once we hit that stretch. Shooting is something that comes with experience.”
West Georgia shot a season-low 22.8 percent from the floor and made just 3-of-22 on 3-point shots, while the Tigers shot 43 percent.
UWG finished out the regular season strong to earn the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, but were playing a Tiger squad that is fully healthy for the first time this season. Led by Brittany Weathers, the healthiest she’s been all season, West Alabama kept putting up pressure.
Coming into the tournament, Groninger knew it was a tough first-round matchup, as he selected UWA to finish first in the conference during the preseason coaches poll.
“Tip your hat to them. Brittany Weathers, when she’s healthy, she’s the best player in the league. I don’t think anybody would dispute that. She had a game. She scored 25, almost 50 percent of their points. She almost outscored us,” Groninger said. “Their top seven or eight players were all there last year. They’re defending conference tournament champions, and they played like it. I thought our lack of conference tournament play showed.”
Jerlisa Taylor, who led the team with 10 points and tied Brittany Johnson with eight rebounds, and Mone Peoples’ UWG careers ended on Friday. Both had an impact on the Wolves’ basketball program as the team looks toward next season.
“They’ve taken our program a step in the right direction. I think now, just like last year when we got beat, we want to build on that and we did. We went from 10 to 16 wins. We went from a seven seed to a three seed. Now we’ve got to continue to work. When they continue to work and get this back to where we want to be. Just like [graduate assistant] Krystal [Delph’s] group, they are going to be the ones who say, ‘Remember when we had [Taylor] out there. We only had her for one year, weren’t sure what we were getting and she did a fabulous job leading this team,’” Groninger said. “Then with Mone’, she had a great senior year. All-conference player. I think she was really worried coming into this game because she didn’t want it to end. And for her to go out scoring three points, that’s tough for her.”
For Peoples, a Second Team All-GSC performer, the season was a good one even if it ended sooner than the team would have liked.
“It was a great experience. We had a lot of ups and downs, just like any other game, it just didn’t go out way,” Peoples said. “It’s a good personal accomplishment, but I wouldn’t have gotten that without my team. They help me score all the points I scored and do all the things I do. I know how hard it is to get that. I’m just grateful.”
Taylor was only with UWG for one season, but the Douglas County product made an impact and was a leader on the floor.
“This season, it was exciting. We had a few downs at the beginning of the season, so for us to pull through and become a pretty good team by the end of the season, that felt really good. Good luck to them next year. They should be a pretty good team,” Taylor said.
Even with another first-round conference tournament exit, the Wolves are moving in the right direction. Bringing back most of this season’s roster will help out when next year rolls around.
“It’s tough. I thought we had a really good, rewarding regular season. We go out and beat Union last day of the regular season to get the three seed, but end up playing the conference tournament champions with their players having a week off to rest them,” Groninger said.