College Basketball

Virginia Union edges out Livingstone (93-63) in CIAA women’s semis

Livingstone #43 Alexis Fowler, Virginia Union #3 Kiana Johnson and Livingstone #14 Kyala Searcy, far right, fight for a loose ball during the Livingstone vs. Virginia Union CIAA women's tournament semifinal at Time Warner Cable Arena. Virginia Union won 93-63.
Livingstone #43 Alexis Fowler, Virginia Union #3 Kiana Johnson and Livingstone #14 Kyala Searcy, far right, fight for a loose ball during the Livingstone vs. Virginia Union CIAA women's tournament semifinal at Time Warner Cable Arena. Virginia Union won 93-63. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Virginia Union didn’t open the season expecting to play for the CIAA women’s championship.

Yet, that’s what the Lady Panthers are doing after beating Livingstone 93-63 in the semifinals Friday at Time Warner Cable Area to earn a spot against Shaw, which has nine of the last 13 titles. Virginia Union (24-2), No. 1 in the Atlantic Region and CIAA North, easily dispatched Livingstone (15-12) to set up a battle of the league’s top seeds.

“I didn’t necessarily think we’d be in the championship game, but that was the goal coming in, and we wanted to do that in our first year,” Panthers coach AnnMarie Gilbert said. “The fact that we’re here, we’re surprised but not really shocked by it.”

Virginia Union guard Kiana Johnson, Division II’s top scorer at 28 points a game, produced another dazzling effort with 41 points on 14-of-26 shooting. Ashley Smith pumped in 22 for the Panthers, who connected on 45.5 percent of their shots (30-of-66).

Shaw (24-6), the South’s top seed, cruised to an 86-77 win against Chowan (20-8), leading from the opening tip. The Bears, ranked sixth in the Atlantic Region, jumped on the Hawks early, paced by Kaula Jacks’ 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and Aaliyah Mercer’s 16 points. Shaw connected on 52,6 percent of its shots (32-of-61) compared to Chowan’s 36.5 percent (27-of-74).

"We got off to a good start,” Shaw coach Jacques Curtis said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game for us as Chowan is one of the stronger teams in the conference. We pride ourselves on playing good defense and the team did a good job tonight, especially in the first half despite us giving second chances in the second half."

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