by Anthony Harrison
Wake Forest University sophomore guard Amber Campbell fired the final shot of the Old Gold War.
She hadn’t missed all night. With four seconds left in yesterday’s second-round game against seven-seed Georgia Tech University, a chance for glory passed into her hands.
Campbell shot the rock with her left. The layup ringed the rim. The excited throng in the Greensboro Coliseum held its breath.
The postseason often brings out the best in teams. Maybe it’s because the ones that floundered in the regular season or during conference play realize the facts: “Survive and advance,” as legendary NC State head coach Jim Valvano would say. Cinderella arrives in the post, and every hopeful team wants the chance to dance in the royal ball.
Wake Forest, the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament’s 10th seed, must have felt a rush of confidence after crushing the 15th-seeded Clemson University Tigers in the first round. Over the regular season, they’d barely scraped together a winning record. But against Clemson, they took no prisoners, leading by as much as 24 in the third quarter, settling for a final score of 73-58.
After that decisive victory, they faced the next opponent in their prospective underdog campaign: a balanced, well-rested Georgia Tech.
Though weary, the Lady Deacs were ready for combat.
Tech fired the first shot. They could afford to, possessing in their arsenal the highest scorer in ACC women’s basketball: senior guard Aaliyah Whiteside. Her form and technique exuded cool authority; she pulled up so smoothly and easily, you could barely tell she was going to shoot.
But Wake fired back.
Through the first quarter, freshman guard Ariel Stephenson proved unequivocally she’ll be a bold, dynamic talent for Wake Forest for years to come. She set the Georgia Tech net ablaze, hitting all three of her three-point attempts and nailing a midrange jumper. But she didn’t necessarily want to be the hero; she fed the ball to freshman forward Elisa Penna for her own tres.
At the end of the first quarter, Wake had overrun the stunned Yellow Jackets, leading 25-13.
Yet the Lady Deacons had awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve.
After kicking the hornets’ nest, Stephenson got substituted to cool off. Georgia Tech seized the chance.
Whiteside lit a fire under her squad’s asses with two steals and a beautiful shot from beyond the arc. Other Yellow Jackets swarmed against the Deacons: Senior forward Roddreka Rogers hit the boards on both sides of the court. Tech’s defense held Wake at bay, and their offense counterattacked, slowly chipping away at the lower seed’s lead. Sophomore guard Antonia Peresson sniped two threes, including one with 11 seconds left in the half, cutting Wake’s lead to three.
The game had become a battle.
The Deacons stormed out of the locker room reinforced. They formed another double-digit salient through the third quarter, thanks largely to junior forward Milan Quinn’s blitzkrieg in the paint.
The Ramblin’ Wreck squashed that bulge to a five-point advantage.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Wake Forest reached the breaking point. Their exhausted snipers lost accuracy.
Georgia Tech held the line and slowly tightened the noose. Grad-student swingwoman Irene Gari sunk a long ball, tying the game at 56, a spearhead directly into the weakened Deacons. Whiteside fired a salvo of clutch baskets. Tech led by seven with four minutes and 23 seconds remaining.
But Campbell and Stephenson rallied their squad. The former hit four free throws. Stephenson drained another three. With two minutes on the clock, Wake went once more unto the breach. Milan tied the game with a layup with a minute left, but Tech’s Rogers scored a layup of her own with seven seconds remaining.
Wake called time.
Then the inbound to Amber Campbell, whose lefty layup circled the hoop, a final banzai charge to force overtime.
The ball tripped out as the buzzer blew.
Georgia Tech, triumphant, stormed the battlefield. The Lady Deacs could only muster thousand-yard stares.