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College basketball: Charlotte women beat Richmond, 59-54

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Katie Meier helped lead Charlotte to one NCAA tournament and a WNIT bid before bolting for Miami’s coaching job. Amanda Butler directed the 49ers to two more WNIT appearances before becoming Florida’s coach.
So when Karen Aston took the 49ers to a fifth WNIT in as many seasons in her debut last year, she knew the 49ers were long overdue for a breakthrough.
On Monday, it happened. Behind 22 points from Shannon McCallum, Charlotte captured its first conference title in school history by rallying to beat Richmond 59-54 in the Atlantic 10 championship game.
“We needed to make this step,” Aston said. “From when Katie was here and when Amanda took over and now, this program needs to make this step and I’m really proud it’s happened.”
Never in their stints in the Sun Belt, Metro or Conference USA did the 49ers reach a league tournament final, and they were bounced out in their first tourney game in their first three years in the A10.
Now the third-seeded 49ers (23-8) are headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 thanks to a relentless second-half press and their friendly home-court advantage.
“It’s difficult coming in knowing that you’ve lost every year” said Charlotte senior point guard Traci Ray, who had nine points and was voted tournament MVP. “But I think once we won that first game it just got us over that hump and let us breath a little bit.”
Brittani Shells scored 20 points for Richmond (23-9) but committed nine turnovers and missed three shots in the final minute, including a tying 3-point attempt with 33 seconds left.
Erin Floyd and Ray then combined to hit six straight free throws, and the tournament hosts celebrated an NCAA bid that was wide open after top-seed Xavier’s quarterfinal loss to Dayton.
Charlotte trailed by eight early in the second half while its top scorer was in a funk. Junior guard Aysha Jones missed her first five shots before her layup and Aston’s decision to go to a full-court press ignited the 49ers.
With Richmond having trouble getting the ball in the frontcourt, the 49ers went on a 16-5 run. McCallum’s steal and layup gave Charlotte a 49-44 lead with 5:41 left.
“I thought me at the top of the press, that it would bother them, me being a bigger guard,” the 5-foot-10 McCallum said. “I thought it was a good thing to go to the 12 press, to get steals and get our momentum.”
The 49ers then held on behind McCallum, the A10’s reserve of the year. She hit 8 of 15 shots and added five steals. She made up for Jones’ 3-for-12 shooting performance and Charlotte’s 26 turnovers.

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