Strong Second Half Sends UDC Women’s Basketball to 77-71 Season-Opening Win vs. Southern Connecticut State in Nakpodia’s Head Coaching Debut

Sophomore Kaylah Cooper scored 12 points on 5-of-7 FG shooting.
Sophomore Kaylah Cooper scored 12 points on 5-of-7 FG shooting.

BRIDGEPORT, CT – The University of the District of Columbia women's basketball team earned a 77-71 season-opening win vs. Southern Connecticut State to open the John Nakpodia head coaching era on Saturday afternoon in the East Coast Conference vs. Northeast 10 Conference Challenge Tournament hosted by the University of Bridgeport.

The Firebirds (1-0) were led by junior transfer guard Natasha Roy's game-high 25 points on 8-for-15 FG shooting. Roy, who scored 10 of her 25 in the 4th quarter, also pitched in with five rebounds, two assists and a game-high three steals.

Roy was supported by three other Firebird scorers in double figures, including junior transfer guard Mia-Alexis Lloyd with 16 points (12-of-13 FT), sophomore guard Kaylah Cooper with 12 points (5-of-7 FG), and freshman guard Daeja Quick with 12 points (4-of-7 FG).

SCSU (0-1), which was picked to finish 4th in the Northeast 10 Southwest Division after a 12-17 overall record last season, was led by reserve guard Africa Williams' 16 points in 30 minutes off the bench. Abby Hurlbert and Imani Wheeler added 10 points apiece as well.

The two teams combined for 47 turnovers (UDC 24, SCSU 23), but it was the Firebirds out-shooting the Owls, 40-percent (21-of-52) to 36-percent (22-of-62) from the field, 39-percent (7-of-18) to 29-percent (5-of-17) from three-point range, and 80-percent (28-of-35) to 76-percent (22-of29) from the foul line that ultimately made the difference in the game.

The Firebirds raced out to a 5-0 lead on a three-pointer by Roy and a layup by Cooper within the first minute-and-a-half, but the Owls fought back to out-score UDC 11-3 over the next six minutes, taking an 11-8 lead on a layup by Williams. UDC trailed by as many as five (16-11) in the first quarter, but ended the period with a three-point deficit, 19-16.

UDC and SCSU traded baskets for much of the 2nd quarter, with the Firebirds closing within one (27-26) at the 3:17 mark, only to have the Owls go on an 8-2 run over the next two minutes and take a seven-point lead, 35-28. Cooper scored the final points of the half to cut the deficit to five as the two teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.

Cooper opened the 2nd half scoring 13 seconds into the 3rd quarter as she buried a three-pointer to bring the Firebirds within two, but SCSU out-scored UDC 10-2 over the next four minutes to open up its largest lead of the day, 45-35. The Firebirds bounced back quickly, however, using a 15-5 surge in the final five minutes of the quarter to force a 50-all tie heading into the 4th quarter. Although UDC shot just 2-of-11 from the field, the Firebirds out-scored the Owls 20-15 in the quarter as a result of 15-of-18 shooting from the foul line. Lloyd was 9-of-10 from the line in the quarter with 11 points.

SCSU opened the 4th quarter on a 9-2 spurt, going up 59-52 on a Kiana Steinauer layup at 5:46, and forcing first year head coach John Nakpodia to take a timeout at 5:43. Out of the timeout, the Firebirds soared to an 11-5 run, cutting the Owls' lead to one, 64-63 on a traditional three-point play by Lloyd just under the three-minute mark. SCSU responded, however, with four straight points to extend its lead to five, 68-63.

Following Wheeler's pair of free-throws to make it a five-point game at 2:18, Daeja Quick entered the game for the Firebirds and had an immediate impact on the game. First, at the 1:55 mark, she converted an and-one layup and the free-throw to cut the lead to two. Then, she knocked down a three-pointer at 1:26 to give UDC its first lead of the game since the first quarter, 69-68.

Down the stretch in the final minute of regulation, UDC defensively held SCSU to 1-of-4 from the field and forced a turnover; meanwhile, the Owls also missed two free-throws while UDC made 6-of-7, including Roy's 5-for-5 display to ice the game.

Next up, UDC will take on St. Michael's College tomorrow at 12 p.m.