DAHLONEGA, Ga. (VALDOSTA STATE ATHLETICS) — Behind a career-high 23 points from sophomore Jirah Ards, the No. 12 Valdosta State women's basketball team defeated Lee University 74-64 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA South Regional in the No. 3/6 matchup at the University of North Georgia.
VSU, the No. 3-seed in the regional, advances to the second round Saturday evening at 8 p.m. versus No. 2-seed and No. 5-ranked Lander University (17-1). The Lady Blazers improved to 18-3 on the year, while Lee ended its season at 15-8. VSU and Lander have met one time with Lander winning 71-54 to begin the 2009-2010 season in Valdosta.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on 94.3 WJEM FM and online at foxsportsvaldosta.com with Spencer Van Horn having the call. Fans also can access links to live stats, audio/video streaming and more at the NCAA South Regional Championship Central page link to the right of this story.
Two teams, VSU and Lee, who know each other very well, as this marked the fifth meeting this season. The Lady Blazers exacted a bit of revenge as Lee won in the Gulf South Conference semifinal in Valdosta exactly one week ago, 74-71, holding off a furious second half rally by the Lady Blazers. VSU claimed the season series tonight, 3-2.
The Lady Blazers, in their 13th trip to the NCAA postseason, improved to 14-12 all-time and now have back-to-back victories versus Lee in the NCAA Tournament. VSU won 63-57 in the semifinal over the Lady Flames in 2018. VSU dropped a heartbreaking 74-73 decision to Union in the regional final that season.
Ards was magnificent in the game Friday evening, going a career-best 9 of 12 from the field, while she was 5 of 8 from the line, pulled down nine rebounds with two assists and a team-high three steals earning the Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the of the Game. Senior Kayla Bonilla scored 17 points on 5 of 10 from the field and 7 of 10 from the line, while dishing out seven assists and recording two steals.
VSU shot a blistering 55.1 percent from the field on 27 of 49, including 7 of 8 from the field in the decisive fourth quarter. VSU was just 2 of 10 from range, but was 18 of 27 form the line. The Lady Blazers held a commanding 42-26 lead in rebounding and 32-17 on the defensive end.
The Lady Blazer "D" held Lee in check all evening as the Lady Flames were 18 of 57 from the field (31.6 percent), while Lee stayed close, going 8 of 26 from beyond the arc and 20 of 25 from the line. VSU never trailed in the game and Lee cut the deficit to as few as two points at 50-48 on three free throws from Maddie Long with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Haley Schubert led the Lady Flames with 22 points on 6 of 17 from the field, 5 of 7 from beyond the arc and 5 of 8 from the line, while Hannah Garrett added 11 points and Maddie Woodworth chipped in ten off the bench.
Lady Blazers score the first 14 points of the game and opened with a 6-0 lead through the first 2:30 of the game as VSU began the game 2 for 2 from the field and two free throws, while Lee was 0 of 4. VSU stretched the lead to 8-0 on a jumper from Farrar with 6:45 left in the first quarter and a timeout from the Lady Flames. Bonilla picked the pocket of Julia Duncan and Ards scored on a layup for a 10-0 lead with 5:07 left in the quarter. VSU then forced Lee into its fifth turnover in the first five minutes of the contest. Ards scored inside, once again for her eighth point and a 12-0 lead with 3:55 left in the quarter.
Schubert hit Lee's first field goal of the game – a trey with 3:15 left in the quarter as Lee missed its first ten shots to begin the game. Schubert made one free throw for a 14-4 score with 2:47 left in the quarter. Farrar stretched lead back to 12 with a layup for a 16-4 score. Farrar finished the quarter 4 for 4 in free throws for a 20-4 VSU lead as Lee was just 1 of 14 from the field in the opening quarter, while VSU was 7 of 12 and 6 of 6 from the line. Both Ards and Farrar each had eight points in the quarter, while Schubert had all four points for the Lady Flames. The four points scored by Lee was the second-fewest allowed by VSU in a quarter this season as Shorter scored three points in the second quarter on Jan. 9, 2021, in a 68-48 victory by VSU in Rome, Ga.
Bonilla scored the first points of the second quarter for a 22-4 lead with 9:06 left in the half and then Ards pushed the lead to a game-high 20 at 24-4 with 8:02 left. Halle Hughes hit two free throws for Lee for its first points, since the 3:15 mark in the first quarter.
Schubert tallied her sixth point of the game and the first field goal since 3:15 of the first half for a 26-8 score with 7:22 left in the half. She then buried her second triple of the game for a 28-15 VSU lead with 5:27 remaining in the half as Lee pulled within 29-17 with 4:38 left, but Ards answered the run with a layup inside for a 31-17 score with 4:28 left.
Hughes scored inside for a 36-25 VSU lead with 1:44 left and Schubert hit her third trey of the half, pulling Lee within nine at 37-28 with 1:42 left. Bonilla pushed the lead back to 11 with two charity tosses and then ended a field goal drought of over two minutes for a 41-30 lead with 20 seconds left for the halftime margin.
VSU shot 51.7 percent for the half on 15 of 29 from the field, while hit was 0 of 5 from range and 11 of 14 from the line. The Lady Blazers had 23 rebounds and five on the offensive end, forcing ten turnovers in the half. Ards led the team with 14 points on 6 of 6 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line, along with five rebounds and two steals. Bonilla chipped in 13 points in the half.
Lee was much better in the second quarter, going 6 of 14 from the field and 2 of 6 from beyond the arc for the stanza, while going 12 of 16 from the line in the quarter after opening 1 of 2 in the first quarter. Lee had 16 rebounds and also forced ten turnovers. The free throw shooting in the second quarter is what kept the Lady Flames in the game for the half. Schubert had 16 points and three triples for the half, while going 5 of 8 from the line to lead the team. Only four players scored in the half for Lee. For the half, Lee was 7 of 28 from the field and 3 of 13 from range, while going 13 of 18 from the line.
Treys from Duncan and Schubert began the second half as Lee pulled within 41-36 with 8:54 left in the quarter. Hughes pushed the start of the quarter to an 8-0 run for the Lady Flames for a 41-38 Blazer lead with 7:20 left in the third. Lee opened the second half with a 10-2 run to get back into the contest. However, the fouls started to mount up for the Lady Flames as five different players had three fouls each putting VSU in the bonus with 6:32 left in the quarter.
Bonilla hit two tosses for VSU's first points of the half with 6:07 left in the quarter as it started the half 0 of 6 from the field. Farrar hit the first field goal of the half for the Lady Blazers and a 45-40 lead with 5:21 left, ending field goal drought of over five minutes. Schubert then picked up her fourth foul with 5:01 remaining in the quarter. Ards pushed the lead back to eight with her 17th point on an "and one" as Garrett picked up her fourth foul with 4:17 left in the frame and a VSU 48-40 advantage. Ards then went inside following a miss from Duncan for a score and a 50-40 lead with 3:58 remaining in the quarter as the VSU offense regained some of its momentum from the first half. Lee had the deficit within three just a few minutes earlier.
Morgan Carbaugh hit a triple and, following a turnover, Macy Woodworth scored inside for a 50-45 VSU lead at the 2:53 mark. Maddie Long hit three free throws pulling Lee within 50-48 and an 8-0 run. VSU junior Kayla Frey answered back with the first triple made of the game by the Lady Blazers and it was a big one for a 53-48 lead, ending the run. Farrar pushed the lead to 55-48 with 52 seconds left in the quarter off a miscue by the Lady Flames, but Woodworth hit her third bucket of the evening for a 55-50 VSU lead to end the scoring in the frame.
Two big buckets from Farrar began the fourth for VSU for a 59-50 lead with 8:28 left. Following a miss from Lee, freshman Alexandria Smith scored her first bucket of the game for a 61-50 lead with 8:13 left as VSU opened the quarter on a 6-0 run. Junior Shanice Nelson swelled the lead to 13 at 63-50 with a layup with 6:17 left and a timeout by the Lady Flames. Lee began the quarter 0 of 6 from the field, while VSU started 4 of 5.
Smith then nailed the second trey of the night for VSU for a 66-50 lead with five minutes left. Garrett answered for the first bucket of the frame (1 of 9) for the Lady Flames and a timeout with 4:38 left as VSU led 66-52. Following a VSU miscue, Schubert buried her fifth trey of the game and 66-55 VSU lead with four minutes left. Ards earned another "and one" with a layup for her 22nd point for a 69-55 lead with 3:47 left. Schubert followed with an offensive foul for her fifth foul of the game.
Garrett pulled Lee within 71-62 with 37 seconds left on her first trey of the night. Ards made 1 of 2 at the line on the immediate foul by the Lady Flames. Garrett and VSU senior Delaney Bernard traded buckets. Ards came up with her third steal of the game with four seconds left as VSU advanced to the second round, 74-64.