|JOHNSON NAMED TOP FEMALE COLLEGE PLAYER IN VIRGINIA|
Kiana Johnson leads NCAA Division II in scoring (29.3 ppg) and is ranked No. 2
nationally in assists (8.7 apg). Not coincidentally, she and her VUU teammates
are preparing to play in next week's NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
Johnson scored 49 points and had eight assists and six steals, Lady Walker and Taylor White each posted double-doubles and Virginia Union rolled to a 91-77 win over West Liberty in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region final Monday night at Barco-Stevens Hall.
The Panthers advanced to the Elite Eight, where they'll face East Region champion Bentley (Massachusetts) on March 22 in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Falcons won the national title in 2014.
Under the 1983 women's national championship banner that hangs in Barco-Stevens, VUU didn't lose a game this season (15-0). The Panthers haven't lost since Jan. 25.
Virginia Union has been playing basketball in Barco-Stevens Hall for 69 years. Monday was the first time the nets were cut down.
"It just feels good to be a part of history," Johnson said. "I'm just embracing the moment."
It was never lost on her that Monday's game would be her last on campus.
"I just wanted to give the fans a show, make sure they enjoy watching me play for my last time in Barco," Johnson said.
Walker scored 11 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. White added 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Johnson and Walker were named to the all-tournament team. Johnson was named the most outstanding player.
Liz Flowers led West Liberty with 33 points. Kierra Simpson added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The Panthers dominated on both ends of the floor in the first half to build a substantial lead, which they held throughout. They forced West Liberty into 11 turnovers and held the Hilltoppers to 37.5 percent shooting. Johnson had four of Union's eight steals.
West Liberty finished with 17 turnovers and shot 36.6 percent. It hit 12 of 42 attempts outside the arc.
The Panthers' offense started hot, posting 30 points on 64.7 percent shooting for a 14-point first-quarter lead. With 19 points, Johnson outscored West Liberty (16).
Johnson scored 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field (3 of 4 from 3-point range, 5 of 5 from the free throw line) to lead Union to a 49-34 lead at halftime.
The only trouble for the hosts came late in the third quarter, when Johnson picked up her fourth foul and was forced to sit with just under 3 minutes to play. Flowers hit back-to-back 3s to pull West Liberty to 68-53 entering the fourth quarter.
Johnson returned to start the fourth, and the Panthers scored the first 9 points of the quarter to open a 77-53 lead before cruising to the win.
Union finished shooting 50.8 percent from the field. The Panthers registered 12 steals and outscored the Hilltoppers 48-26 in the paint. They scored 31 fast-break points.
"It's a great accomplishment," first-year Panthers coach AnnMarie Gilbert said.
"It's been a special journey with a special group of people.
"Everything that you dream about as a coach, you know, we've got the player of the year, the defensive player of the year, the most outstanding player of the tournament, the most outstanding player of the Atlantic Region. Those are all things that you tell kids, you're student-athletes, that if they work hard, they can achieve those things, and for us to do it all in one year, we just give all the praise and honor to God.
"In one year, what this team has done, they don't have any idea."
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