TYLER — The No. 1-ranked TVCC Lady Cardinals would not be denied Saturday afternoon in a, 69-58, Region XIV Conference championship game against the No. 8-ranked Blinn Buccaneers at UT-Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center.
The victory handed first-year Coach Elena Lovato’s Lady Cardinals (32-1) their sixth straight trip to the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Championship in Salina, Kan. and 18th overall. The Lady Cards are the defending national champions.
Blinn defeated Jacksonville 75-62 on Friday afternoon to reach the conference tournament finals for the first time since 2008. This was the third loss for Blinn against the Lady Cardinals this year with losses of 89-72 and a 94-88 loss in overtime in the regular season finale.
Saturday’s contest was the 20th time in the last 22 years TVCC has reached the regional tournament finals, and they were coming into the contest with 20 consecutive wins.
Lovato said after slow starts in their first two games of the tournament, she tried a different approach to get the team to focus more on the game.
“I was very proud of my girls in the first half but I think we lost our focus in the last eight minutes of the ballgame,” Lovato said. “I don’t know if it was the excitement of cutting down the nets or what it was but I feel like we had a six minute lapse at the end.”
Shlonte’ Allen — who was named MVP of the tournament and the co-MVP of the region following the game — looked to put Trinity Valley in the driver’s seat as she gave them a, 61-40, lead on one-of-two free throws with 6:40 remaining in the contest.
Blinn would not go down without a fight as they outscored TVCC, 18-8, the remainder of the game behind strong play from Fatima Adams and Jazzmin Parker. Parker finished the game with 21 points, while Adams added 20 points.
“Some of that stuff came late and these girls are very well coached,” Lovato said. “I give them all of the credit in the world for not backing down to us and I look forward to future battles with them.”
Trinity Valley came out determined on the defensive end in the first 20 minutes of play and held their biggest lead of the half at, 25-10, with 3:39 remaining. TVCC’s Roddricka Patton found a wide open Krystle Henderson along the three-point stripe as she drained one of her three three-pointers in the game.
“I was very impressed with the way that my group came out in the first half,” Lovato said. “We were able to hold Blinn off of the offensive boards and to defend the way that we did which was very disciplined.”
Blinn was able to cut into the first half deficit heading into the locker room as Parker drained a jumper with 38 seconds remaining for the 31-18 deficit.
“That was definitely one of our keys was to keep all of their shooters in front of us and not give them good looks at the basket. I think it was very important for us because we didn’t want the same thing that happened to us the last time happen again,” TVCC freshman Kyhonta Doughty said. “We wanted to come out here and not have any mistakes or have any major turnovers.”
Allen said making sure her and her teammates were in the right mindset was a big key to the success of the team Saturday afternoon.
“Our mindset was we were going to come out here and play harder than we did the first two games,” Allen said. “Once we got our mindset on the game and got on that big run, we were able to keep it going and not let down.”
The Lady Cards held as much as a 25-point lead in the second half at, 60-35, on a three-pointer by Allen with 9:54 remaining, Blinn was able to outscore TVCC, 40-38, in the second half of play.
Lovato said having the 10 players she has around her has made her first season very special and they still have one more goal to accomplish
“I am very fortunate to have this group around me,” Lovato said. “I know there is something special and a higher power that has helped me put this group together. I know that if we can stay healthy and focused that we can accomplish anything. I am so ready for this national championship run.”
NOTES: After the game, Allen was announced as not only the MVP of the conference tournament, but the Co-MVP of the league along with Blinn’s Audrisa Harrison. Teammates Adut Bulgak, Shannon Smith and Krystle Henderson were also named All-Region and to the all-tournament team. TVCC sophomore Savannah Carter was named to the all-conference team, as well.
Trinity Valley 69, Blinn 58
Blinn (30-3) — Jazzmin Parker 9-15 1-3 21; Fatima Adams 8-16 4-5 20; Audrisa Harrison 2-9
3-6 7; Tierra Tucker 2-6 0-0 4; Aarika Reyna 1-3 0-0 2; Amari Jones 0-4 2-2 2; Moe Bedford 1-5 0-0 2; Shanequa Gaston 0-1 0-2 0; Danielle Espinoza 0-1 0-4 0. Totals 23-60 10-22 58.
Trinity Valley (32-1) — Shlonte’ Allen 9-19 1-2 24; Shannon Smith 5-17 0-0 12; Adut Bulgak 4-10 3-4 12; Krystle Henderson 4-13 1-3 12; Kyhonta Doughty 2-5 0-0 4; Savannah Carter 0-5 3-4 3; Roddricka Patton 0-3 2-3 2; Dominique Brooks 0-1 0-0 0; Julianne Anchling 0-0 0-0 0; Victoria Wells 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-73 10-16 69.
Blinn 18 40 — 58
Trinity Valley 31 38 — 69
3-point goals — Blinn 2-14 (Parker 2-5; Adams 0-1; Harrison 0-2; Tucker 0-1; Reyna 0-2; Bedford 0-2; Espinoza 0-1), Trinity Valley 11-30 (Allen 5-7; Henderson 3-9; Smith 2-9; Bulgak 1-1; Patton 0-3; Carter 0-1).
Rebounds — Blinn 40 (Harrison 10), Trinity Valley 54 (Bulgak 12).
Assists — Blinn 9 (Reyna 2; Jones 2; Bedford 2), Trinity Valley 11 (Carter 3; Smith 3).
Total fouls — Blinn 12, Trinity Valley 18.
Fouled out — Blinn-None, Trinity Valley-None.
Technical fouls — Blinn-None, Trinity Valley-None.