Shaw, Lander share path to Elite 8, San Antonio
By Donal Ware
SAN ANTONIO, TX - It was 8:15 a.m. on Sunday morning when the charted flight carrying the two-time defending CIAA and Atlantic Regional Champion Shaw Lady Bears left from Raleigh-Durham International Airport with its final destination to San Antonio.
For the last eight years, the Shaw women's basketball program has been used to taking flights. This is the fourth time Shaw has made it to the NCAA Division II Elite 8. In that time, the Lady Bears have flown to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Arkansas, Missouri, California, and Pennsylvania. Just after Christmas, the Lady Bears flew to West Texas then to New Mexico to take on Division I New Mexico State where they played a respectable game losing 61-53.
Back in 2005 when the Lady Bears made it to the Elite 8 for the first time, Willie E. Gary, Chairman of the Shaw Board of Trustees allowed the team to fly on his private jet, Wings of Justice, to Hot Springs, AR, which is about 60 miles from Little Rock.
But this year instead of going directly to San Antonio, Shaw took a 30-minute detour and made a stop at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport to pick up the Lander University women's basketball team, who is also playing in the Elite 8.
With a lot of commercial flights being taken during spring break, the NCAA booked the flight for Shaw from RDU and suggested to Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis that they allow Lander to fly with them, which would save the NCAA money.
"I was fine with it if he (Lander head coach Kevin Pederson) was fine with it," said Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis.
This was definitely a business trip for both as the teams and personnel sat on opposite sides of the plane. There wasn't much interaction between the teams.
The Lady Bears' path to this year's Elite 8 was perhaps the least difficult of the other three. That's not to say it was easy, however. Shaw lost just one game in conference, won their seventh CIAA Tournament Championship in 11 years, are 26-6, and defeated Atlantic Regional host and No. 3 ranked Edinboro of Pennsylvania 70-53 in the championship game. The Shaw women made it all the way to the Final Four last year, before falling to eventual National Champion Clayton State.
Win three games in San Antonio and Shaw will win its first national championship in any sport. It begins with a match-up against Pittsburg State on Tuesday.
This may be Shaw's deepest team in Curtis' 12 years at Shaw and is led by forward Aslea Williams, an All-CIAA performer and the CIAA Tournament and Atlantic Regional Tournament MVP. She averages 15.4 and 8.6 rebounds per game. Another forward Kyria Buford was the CIAA's Defensive player of the Year and averages 9.4 rebounds, two steals, 2.1 blocks and 13.1 points per game.
Lander, a member of the Peach Belt Conference and located in Greenwood, SC, won the South Atlantic Regional Championship by defeating Wingate 72-67 in double overtime. This is Lander's first appearance in the Elite 8 as they face off against Rollins on Tuesday. The Bearcats are led by guards Brittni Johnson, who averages 13.7 points and 4.2 assists per game, and Ciara Johnson who averages 13.5 points per game. The Bearcats face Rollins on Tuesday.
If both teams win their first two games, they would meet in the national championship game. Shaw and Lander have met four times in the schools' histories, especially when the CIAA was part of the South Atlantic Region. The series is tied 2-2.
As for the return trip, the likelihood of the teams returning together is small. When asked about a return trip with Lander, Curtis said, "I am not sure if they would want to fly back with us if we win the championship."
Shaw Lady Bears' women's basketball team
Lander Bearcat's women's basketball team