Seahawks secure first winning season since 2011-12

Barefoot: “I was waiting for this day since I came here.”

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Seahawks secure first winning season since 2011-12

GiGi Smith (5) during UNCW's contest against Delaware in Trask Coliseum on Feb. 24, 2019.

GiGi Smith (5) during UNCW's contest against Delaware in Trask Coliseum on Feb. 24, 2019.

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

GiGi Smith (5) during UNCW's contest against Delaware in Trask Coliseum on Feb. 24, 2019.

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

GiGi Smith (5) during UNCW's contest against Delaware in Trask Coliseum on Feb. 24, 2019.

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

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The final home game of the season for UNC Wilmington women’s basketball went according to plan, with a 72-64 win over Delaware at Trask Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the team.

History made

The Seahawks (16-10, 9-6 CAA) will finish the regular season with a 13-1 home record, the only blemish coming in Friday night’s loss to Drexel. The win also secures their first winning season since their second-consecutive WNIT appearance under Cynthia Cooper-Dyke seven years ago.

UNCW was paced by the duo of Chinyere Bell and GiGi Smith. The pair combined for 39 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field and 12 rebounds to help lead the Seahawks to the win. Junior guard Lacey Suggs also chipped in 12 points.

“What a feeling,” said head coach Karen Barefoot postgame. “It’s been an incredible ride this season, historical. We knew it was going to be a battle and we wanted to end it strong for senior night in front of our fans.”

The win also gave the Seahawks the most home wins in the Division I era, representing a significant all-around improvement in year two of the Barefoot era.

“I came here to build something special, and it takes special people to do it,” Barefoot said. “It’s a great day to be a Seahawk. I was waiting for this day since I came here, to be able to say that we had a winning season and we still have games left to play.”

The Blue Hens (13-13, 8-6 CAA) were led by redshirt senior guard Alison Lewis’ 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and junior forward Rebecca Lawrence’s 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Their three-game win streak was snapped with the loss.

Bounce back on senior day

Although the Seahawks were naturally disappointed that their bid for a perfect home record ended on Friday, they showed that they were able to put that all behind them to give the Wilmington community one last win from a team that has made a massive turnaround this season.

“We just had to think about the next game at that point,” said redshirt junior guard Smith, who had 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field to go along with five assists and steals each. “There’s no point in dwelling on a game. Everyone played their hearts out and I’m so proud to be a part of a team that just works harder every day. We decided to just focus on this game and realize we have two weeks left before we’re in the conference tournament. From now on, every game is a championship for us.”

The team honored the three departing seniors – guards Shrita Parker, Ashli Jeune and Julia Buehler – prior to tipoff. The pregame ceremony inspired Bell, apparently, next season’s only returning senior, to score a career-high of 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting along with eight boards.

“It [was] senior night. Every time I was tired or I got hit really hard, I just thought about Shrita and Ashli and Julia and how they’ve put so much into this program since coach Barefoot has come here,” said Bell postgame.

Talk of the town

For a team that has had such a drastic change in fortunes and fan support over the course of just under two years, it’s natural to acknowledge that they have the become the main show on UNCW’s campus.

The players, however, don’t let their egos swell.

“I know that we didn’t have such a great, winning season last year. I know that we weren’t the talk of the town. But if you see us now, everyone’s talking about us,” Smith said. “It’s so crazy but a lot of people would take that out of context and get a big head about it. Every day in practice, we practice like we just lost by 30 and our record is 0-20.”

Smith gave heavy praise to the fans, who the team believes has made one of the most crucial differences in their improvement this season.

“It’s just an amazing feeling coming out and playing for a crowd that supports us and loves us,” said Smith. “I wish we could take them with us everywhere we go! If we don’t play for us, we play for them.”

Bell admitted that the increase in fervor has taken a bit of getting used to.

“It’s beautiful. Even if we’re down, we hear the crowd starting to chant,” Bell said. “We’re not really used to that, we’re into the game and we hear them and think, ‘dang, this is for us! It’s not the men’s game, this is for us.’ We appreciate every single person. Coach Barefoot has done a great job of getting us out there.”

Battle scars and bruises

In a physically grueling battle that featured 26 fouls from Delaware – only one of the nine players dressed had only one foul – the Seahawks showed maturity to not get suckered into those tactics and get the victory they needed. Even if that meant having to shrug off Delaware’s Makeda Nicholas’ intentional trip on Carol-Anne Obusek in the first quarter.

“I think that they had to hold me back,” Barefoot said with a laugh. “They all grabbed each other and just talked to me and said ‘let’s just take a deep breath and just walk away from the situation and refocus’. I think that we all just had to calm down. I asked C.A. if she was okay and she was. It was a dirty play, but we had to move on and we moved on for her.”

“We’re used to it,” said Bell. “This whole year has been physical, so there’s not much we had to change. We just know not to do certain things in the game and keep our cool. We keep each other accountable and keep each other lifted.”

Closing the season with a road trip

The Seahawks will now end the season with three straight road contests, first with a trip to Boston to battle Northeastern on Friday, Mar. 1. That game, a rematch of UNCW’s 83-70 win over the Huskies earlier this month, is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff.