NICEVILLE, Fla. – Grittiness in the post and unselfishness in the backcourt led No. 5 Northwest Florida women's basketball to an 80-53 win over Central Florida in the semifinal round of the FCSAA/Region VIII Tournament on Friday in Raider Arena.
The Raiders (26-4) posted 21 assists and 51 rebounds en route to advancing to the title game for the sixth time in the last 10 seasons. Northwest Florida shot 46.9 percent for the game and knocked down nine 3-pointers.
"I thought we played really hard," Northwest Florida head coach Bart Walker said. "We didn't come out with the intensity that we needed, but we responded in the second quarter and got back into the flow and played our game."
Reneasha Payton led all scorers with 18 points, including four triples. Rayven Peeples was 7-of-9 from the field to finish with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Chanaya Pinto also turned in a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards. Vanessa Woodfolk chipped in with 10 points in just 11 minutes of action.
With the victory, Northwest Florida will face rival Gulf Coast in the finals. It will be the second straight meeting between the teams in the championship game and the third time squaring off in the last five years.
"Obviously, we've played each other three times this year," Walker said of matching up with Gulf Coast. "It's the state championship, you have to be ready and go out and play hard. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
After a sluggish first quarter, the Raiders kicked things into high gear winning the second frame, 29-11, and took a 43-24 lead into the break. Northwest Florida shot 70 percent (7-10) in the third quarter and 60.8 percent in the second half.
NWF outrebounded Central Florida 51-20 for the game highlighted by a 22-7 advantage on the offensive glass.
Dominance inside the arc was again key for the Raiders with 48 of the team's 80 points coming from post players. Peeples rejected four shots and Northwest Florida held the Patriots to just seven offensive rebounds.
Gabriela Sales posted nine assists to help guide the Raiders' offense.
Northwest Florida and Gulf Coast are set to tip at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be streamed live at EmeraldCoastTV.com.
For more information on the FCSAA/Region VIII Tournament, visit NWFRaiders.com/Region8Tourney.
For more information on Northwest Florida athletics, visit NWFRaiders.com or follow us on Twitter at @NWF_Raiders.