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Women's basketball team advances to Elite Eight

UNG regional champs 2019
The UNG women's basketball team won the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional championship and will face Lubbock Christian at 8:30 p.m. March 26 in the Elite Eight.

Head coach Buffie Burson's team keeps making history.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) women's basketball team defeated Lander University 73-62 on March 18 to win the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's NCAA history.

UNG's 30 wins are also the most for the program in its 14 years in NCAA Division II. In her 25 seasons, Burson has led the Nighthawks to four 30-win seasons, three of which came when the team competed in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

UNG has been seeded No. 4 among the final eight teams vying for the national title in Columbus, Ohio, and will face No. 5 seed Lubbock Christian (29-5) at 8:30 p.m. March 26 in the national quarterfinals. Fans can watch the game live on the NCAA website.

In the March 27 semifinals, the winner of UNG's game will face the winner between No. 1 seed Drury and No. 8 seed Nova Southeastern, who play at 6 p.m. March 26.  The semifinals are set for 6 and 8:30 p.m. March 27. The national championship game is at 7 p.m. March 29.

Other Elite Eight matchups on March 26 include No. 3 Indiana (Pennsylvania) against No. 6 Azusa Pacific at noon and No. 2 Southwestern Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Saint Anselm at 2:30 p.m.

The women's basketball program becomes the fifth in UNG history to reach an NCAA championship round, joining softball, baseball, cross-country and women's tennis.

Burson said her team has showed tenacity and discipline during this run.

"We are confident in each other, and I think that goes a long way. We won't know much about our opponents, but that goes both ways," Burson said. "March always comes down to first-to-the-floor mentality hustle plays. Anything can happen now that we are in. We'll keep being us and look forward to what's next."

Senior guard Vanessa Agrusa said the team's unselfish demeanor has aided its success.

"We played together as a team and not as individuals," Agrusa said. "We listen to each other when things are not going our way, and we give each other confidence and show that we believe in one another to get the job done."

The victory against Lander was the third in four days for the No. 2 seed Nighthawks (30-4), in Anderson, South Carolina. Nationally ranked No. 20, UNG started regional play with a 91-53 win against Emmanuel College on March 15, followed by a 76-53 rout of Wingate University on March 16 to set up a third matchup this season with Peach Belt Conference (PBC) rival Lander in the Sweet 16.

This year marks the first time the program has earned NCAA tournament appearances in consecutive seasons.

Sophomore guard Abbie Franklin paced the victory against Lander with 22 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore forward Julianne Sutton added 20 points and eight rebounds. Senior guard Tamera Thorpe poured in 18 points and six rebounds.

Sutton was named the Southeast Regional Most Outstanding Player after she notched 63 points and 23 rebounds in the three games. Thorpe joined Sutton on the all-tournament team after Thorpe tallied a combined 49 points in three contests.

UNG went 23-for-29 on free throws against Lander, while the Bearcats were 7-for-11.

Senior guard Amber Skidgel had a team-high 24 points in the opening win against Emmanuel, while Sutton's 23 points and 10 rebounds led the way against Wingate.

"I'm extremely confident in our team heading into the Elite Eight," Skidgel said. "We have been playing great basketball, and we have been learning and getting better even through these tournament games. We are ready to compete, give it our all and play North Georgia ball."

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