With a 66-63 win over North Texas in the C-USA semifinal game on Friday, the Niners moved on to the C-USA Championship for the first time in school history as they faced Louisiana Tech.
This is Charlotte's second time facing LA Tech this season, beating them 59-56 on Feb. 10. In a comeback effort, Charlotte completed the season sweep with a 68-63 win over the Bulldogs. The win marks four straight wins.
Charlotte was an unstoppable force during the regular season, but they looked sluggish in the first half of the championship, scoring just three in the first quarter.
The Niners dropped 49 points in the second half en route to their second-biggest comeback of the season. This was backed by a 31-point performance by C-USA's player of the year, Octavia Jett-Wilson, who was named tournament MVP after the game.
"That's probably not the way we drew it up, the way it started. A lot of that is a credit to LA Tech," said C-USA coach of the year, Head Coach Cara Consuegra. "They came out really hungry, ready, they frustrated us a lot on the offensive end to start, but a lot of that was just our nerves. As veteran as our team is and as composed as we've been all year, this was a different stage."
No matter the score, Consuegra strived to keep her team calm.
"You can just see it in our players, and every timeout I said, calm down. We don't have to prove anything. We deserve to be here; we've earned it, and now let's just go play. When we are clicking on all cylinders, we are really, really good," said Consuegra. "I'm happy for our players. There's not been a single game this year that we have not gone through significant adversary, not many."
The first quarter was as bad as it gets for the Niners. Of their 13 shots, the Niners drained just one of them for a 7.69% field goal percentage. They were outscored 12-3 in the quarter, with their only field goal being a layup from Dazai Lawrence.
There was just one other time this season when Charlotte scored three or fewer points; in the second game of the season, the Tar Heels outscored the Niners 27-3 in the first quarter to head off their 89-33 victory.
In the second quarter, Charlotte looked improved, raising their shooting percentage to 33.33%. LA Tech increased their lead to 15 with 03:11 remaining in the half. In the next three minutes, Charlotte outscored LA Tech 8-2. Both teams scored 16 in the second quarter. By halftime, LA Tech led by nine.
The Charlotte team that had dominated all season showed after the halftime break.
Something clicked for the Niners during halftime. It took just seven minutes for Charlotte to tie the game up, thanks to a 15-7 run. Nine of these points were scored by Jett-Wilson, which made up 35% of her second-half points.
"I think it's easy to look at the offensive side of the court and how poor we were playing, but truthfully we were not executing our game plan at all. That's honestly what we focused on," said Consuegra. "I knew at some point the offense was gonna come, and I don't worry about that with this team. That was our focus at halftime; let's play the game plan, let's make it tougher for them."
Both teams exchanged points in the next few minutes and found themselves tied at 36, with 59 seconds remaining in the third. The score remained the same for the rest of the quarter. After a huge quarter for Charlotte, both teams went into the fourth with 36.
The fourth quarter was a shootout for both squads. Charlotte held the momentum from the start of the quarter, slowly gaining a lead despite LA Tech scoring plenty. After four minutes, Charlotte had their biggest lead of the game with seven.
Both teams exchanged bowls for the remainder of the game, and despite LA Tech's 25 point quarter, Charlotte was able to keep their lead with 30 points to get the 68-63 comeback win.
In the fourth, The Niners shot an insane 77.78% from the field and drained 15 free throws. The last time Charlotte scored 30 in a quarter was in their 83-73 win over Florida Atlantic in March of last year. Charlotte hasn't seen a 31+ point quarter since January of 2017.
Octavia Jett-Wilson, the regular-season C-USA player of the year, dropped 31 points in the game, 26 of which were in the second half. She has been a huge part of Charlotte's success in the tournament for the Niners and was named tournament MVP. She made 8 of her 11 shots in the game and added a team-high three steals.
Jada McMillian also had a significant scoring impact, draining six shots and six free throws, totaling 18 points. This was her second-highest point total of the season, her highest in January.
Mikayla Boykin was named part of the all-tournament team following the game, and her performance in the Championship showed it was well-deserved. She had just eight points but had three steals, a block, five rebounds, and four assists. Her four assists made up 57% of the team's assists.
Charlotte will now head to the NCAA Championship. The annual selection show takes place on March 13 at 8 p.m. on ESPN, where the 49ers will find out where they are headed next.