HARRISONBURG, Va. — Head coach Charlotte Smith talked to the Elon University women’s basketball team Friday about taking the next step in the program’s history.
Consider that message received.
Elon is heading to its first Colonial Athletic Association championship game.
Elon rolled past College of William & Mary 88-60 in a CAA women’s basketball semifinal Friday afternoon at JMU Convocation Center behind senior guard Lauren Brown’s standout showing and another lights-out shooting performance.
The Phoenix will face the winner of No. 2 James Madison University and No. 3 Drexel University with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I talked about the things that have gotten us here so far, and that’s defense and rebounding,” Smith said. “I want to commend the team for coming out focused on the defensive plan. I’m extremely proud of the fact that we’re buying into offensively sharing the basketball and making sure that everybody gets a chance to shine on offense.”
Brown scored 25 points, 19 in the first half, and junior guard Shay Burnett supplied 20 as Elon advances to its first conference championship game since 2001, back when the Phoenix was in the Big South.
Brown, known for her jump shot and 3-point shooting, spread her shot selection around the floor from the get-go. She scored in transition, pumped in a jumper then cut toward the basket on a fast break to receive a pass from freshman Jada Graves, score then draw the foul.
She made her first eight shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, and didn’t miss until late in the first half. She missed her career high by two.
“Coach Smith always talks to me about making sure I come out aggressive,” Brown said. “That’s one thing I was trying to focus on, just trying to drive the ball and get paint points.
“Fortunately, I was able to get in there and knock some shots down. Once I get my confidence going, I like to continue to attack.”
Elon’s 56.5 percent clip from the field is its best this season and best ever in a conference tournament game.
William & Mary, playing in the CAA semifinals for the first time since 2001, used an 8-0 run and three Elon turnovers to trim the deficit to three late in the first. The Phoenix recovered, though, with a Shay Burnett 3-pointer and a Malaya Johnson turnaround jumper on the baseline in the final 40 seconds to lead by eight after the quarter.
Neither Burnett or Brown were on the floor during the Tribe run.
With the Phoenix rolling late in the game, Burnett hit a 3 to cap off a quick 8-0 burst that left Smith throwing her hands in the air and clapping as William & Mary called timeout.
“I thought we did a good job of not only penetrating, but penetrating under control,” Smith said, “and being able to score and finish with the jump stop.”
Junior forward Malaya Johnson had 15 points for Elon, while senior forward Jenifer Rhodes added 12 and 10 rebounds.
NOTES…: Senior guard Marlena Tremble led William & Mary with 14 points. Senior forward Alexandra Masaquel scored 11. … Elon out-rebounded the Tribe 42-22. … Pending the result, Elon would have to beat James Madison on its home court for the championship. This is the first time in seven years the tournament has been at a campus site. “We just have to go out there and play like we did today, and we should be successful,” Burnett said.