Seattle U coach Joan Bonvicini said after her team’s loss at Washington that her seniors needed to take on more of a leadership role with the young team.
Forwards Ashley Ward and Kacie Sowell have had trouble being as effective in critical points of games as they were during last season’s regular-season Western Athletic Conference championship run. It’s pushed senior guard Sylvia Shephard into a do-everything role.
Against Coastal Carolina on Friday, with Sowell and Ward on the bench, Shephard worked with four underclassmen to finally build a sizable lead for an eventual 84-53 win in its fifth annual Thanksgiving Tournament. SU (2-4) will host Cornell (4-2) in the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday at Connolly Center.
“We’re finally starting to put things together,” Bonvicini said.
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Coastal Carolina capitalized on errors and passive defense by Seattle U in the second half to hang in the game. Down 55-46, Bonvicini had her mainstays on the bench as Shephard ran a young lineup through a 19-6 run to build a 74-52 lead with 5:49 remaining in the game.
Sophomore Taelor Ross muscled in buckets in the paint off Shephard passes. Freshman guard Alexis Montgomery hit jumpers. And Shephard and freshman Kaylee Best nailed three-pointers to highlight the run.
“It gave us a lot of energy,” Ross said of teammates making six three-pointers after the break. “We were able to begin to run the floor and look for them. It was good.”
SU shot 54.5 percent in the second half. The Redhawks were led by Ross’ career-high 18 points. Shephard finished with 16 points and eight assists. Wilma Afunugo added nine points off the bench.
Angelica Henry and Megan Pittman had 12 points each for CCU (4-2).
To jump-start the lineup, Bonvicini moved Montgomery into the starting lineup to replace Kaylee Best after the Washington loss. Ross was also moved into the starting lineup ahead of sophomore Kristin Stoffell.
“It gives Taelor purpose and responsibility,” Bonvicini said. “We always felt she had the potential to be a dominate player and she’s finally seeing it in herself and doing it consistently. Alexis is a floor leader. She had five assists and one turnover. Those are great stats for anybody.”
In the opening game, Cornell beat Drake 59-49.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.