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Lady Wolves beat Southwest; claim region crown

CLINTON – It was another close encounter in Showdown IV. Co-Linand Southwest battled head-to-head Thursday night before the LadyWolves prevailed 70-66 in the championship finals of the NJCAARegion 23 Basketball Tournament in A.E. Wood Coliseum.

Beating Southwest’s Lady Bears (21-7) for the third time in fourmeetings and the second time in a week, the Lady Wolves (26-2)capitalized on their powerful post game which was led by sophomoreMindy Livaudais with 22 points and 7 rebounds.

The victory sends the Lady Wolves to the NJCAA NationalTournament in Salina, Kan. It starts March 19.

Co-Lin beat Southwest 70-65 in last week’s State Tournamentfinals at Fulton and maintained the upper hand with strong defenseand balanced scoring. The Lady Wolves capitalized on Southwestcenter Nakeya Downing’s early foul trouble and forged an 11-pointlead 6 minutes into the second half.

“For the most part we played solid on defense,” said Co-Lincoach Gwyn Young. “We took the ball inside and tried to get them infoul trouble.

“It was a good all-around game,” Young continued. “We handledthe press and didn’t turn the ball over a lot.”

Livaudais, slowed by a painful strained back muscle, was joinedin double figures by freshman guard Tiania Burns with 17 points,freshman forward Nikki Blakely with 13 and sophomore post ChristyBrown with 10.

Blakely, a freshman from Brookhaven, came off the bench to gether total. When Southwest cut its deficit to 4 points, 45-41, with10:16 left in the game, Brown responded with a bank shot andBlakely followed with a baseline drive and 2 free throws, making it51-45.

Co-Lin owned a 12-point, 61-49 advantage when Brown sank a freethrow with 1:25 left to play. The Lady Bears authored a late rallyas Downing, Natasha Booth and Trameicia Williams tossed in treys.Williams finished with 15 points and Booth scored 13. TaraAbdul-Hadi added 11.

When Booth sank a trey with 16 seconds left, Co-Lin’s lead wasreduced to 66-60. Livaudais and Burns sank 4 straight free throwsto preserve the win.

“We just didn’t make the shots tonight,” said Southwest coachMark Swindle. “They (referees) blew her (Downing) out for the game.When you take her out, it hurts. But our other girls picked itup.”

Downing, a 6-foot-1 freshman, was held to 11 points afterscoring 25 in the semifinals win over Meridian. She sat down withher fourth personal foul less than 5 minutes into the second halfand Co-Lin leading 39-33.

Brown and Livaudais began dominating the paint. Livaudais, a6-footer from New Orleans, made 10 of 14 free throws in the game.She spent Thursday morning in a whirlpool of ice water, trying toease her back pain. Co-Lin trainer Rob Steele applied some specialliniment prior to the game.

“Our trainer put some horse stuff on (back),” said Livaudais.”We played extremely better than last night.”

Blakely said she likes coming off the bench and providing aspark. “I feel more relaxed. I was ready to have a good game.Everybody stepped up tonight.”

Co-Lin took a 10-point, 37-27 halftime lead. Blakely sank a pairof short jumpers and Livaudais netted a pair of free throws in thelast 81 seconds of the first half.

Burns and Gwen Smith handled Southwest’s pressing defense. Burnsscored 11 of her points in the second half.

“We had confidence going into the game,” said Burns, a freshmanfrom Nashville, Tenn. “We played together and we knew we could beatthem again. I’m happy to be at Co-Lin and I’m happy to be going tothe national tournament.”

Coach Young said it was the first time for Co-Lin to sweep thestate and regional titles since 1997.