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Women's basketball team's historic run ends in Elite Eight

UNG Elite Eight
UNG senior guard Vanessa Agrusa scored 10 points in the Nighthawks' Elite Eight loss to Lubbock Christian.

The final game didn't play out how Buffie Burson would have wanted, but that won't change the way the University of North Georgia (UNG) women's basketball head coach remembers the best season in NCAA competition for her program.

"It's hard to put into words the amount of gratitude and love I have for this team. They have been connected, unselfish and unbelievably locked in all season," Burson said after a 99-54 loss to Lubbock Christian in the Elite Eight on March 26 in Columbus, Ohio. "The loss at the Elite Eight will sting for a while, but I hope that our players will soon reflect on the amazing run and history made for the program and university and be as proud as we all are of them."

Lubbock Christian (30-5), No. 24 in the country and the No. 5 seed in the Elite Eight, shot a season-high 62.3 percent from the floor against No. 20 UNG, which was the No. 4 seed in the Elite Eight.

Sophomore guard Abbie Franklin led the Nighthawks with 16 points, with sophomore forward Julianne Sutton adding 11 points and senior guard Vanessa Agrusa contributing 10 points in her final game.

UNG finished the season 30-5 after its first NCAA Elite Eight appearance. As the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Regional, the Nighthawks reached the Elite Eight with victories against Lander University in the Sweet 16, Wingate University in the second round and Emmanuel College in the first round.

This is the fourth time Burson led UNG to the 30-win plateau in her 25 years as head coach, and it was the first 30-win season in the program's 14 years in NCAA Division II. The previous 30-win seasons came in 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04 with records of 32-4, 30-6 and 30-6, respectively, while the team was in NAIA. Burson also reached the 500-win mark this season with a 68-63 victory against Flagler College on Dec. 17.

The 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons marked the first time the UNG women's basketball program earned NCAA tournament appearances in consecutive seasons.

Ahead of the national tournament, the Nighthawks also earned Peach Belt Conference (PBC) regular-season and tournament titles for the second season in a row.

Senior guard Amber Skidgel was a first-team All-PBC selection, and Sutton and senior guard Tamera Thorpe were second-team All-PBC honorees. Skidgel, Sutton, Franklin and sophomore guard Kara Groover made the PBC All-Academic Team announced in February.

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

Burson is eager to see where the program goes from here.

"The seniors have left an incredible, most memorable legacy, and our underclassmen have so much to be proud of and build upon," Burson said. "The standard has been set."

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