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Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM

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Seattle U women hold off Sacred Heart to win Thanksgiving Tournament

Redhawks win their own competition for the first time since it began in 2010.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Basketball talk is a constant for the So-Cal Mafia.

It's a playful moniker for juniors Sylvia Shephard, Kacie Sowell and Ashley Ward, Seattle University roommates and Southern California natives. The trio talks hoops at home, at practice and between classes.

They're also the team's most physical players. Against a sharpshooting Sacred Heart in the championship game of SU's Thanksgiving Tournament, the trio led Seattle U to collect a 74-70 win.

It's the first time Seattle U (2-3) won the tournament since its inception in 2010 when the So-Cal Mafia were freshmen. Yet, winning its own tourney was never a topic.

"We just encourage each other," Shephard said.

The trio led Seattle U through a 7-0 run midway through the second half to work its way back from a 51-44 deficit, and Shephard made a layin to give the Redhawks a 63-60 lead with 2:36 remaining. The Pioneers stayed close and two quick three-pointers by Blair Koniszewski narrowed the deficit to 72-70 with 12 seconds left.

Shephard's two free throws and defensive rebound in the final 10 seconds sealed the win. She scored 12 of her 20 points in the second half and added nine rebounds and five assists and was the tournament MVP.

"There wasn't any doubt," Sowell said. "We just kept our intensity up."

The need for intensity made a Friday night round-table between the "mafia" the most important of the young season. Ward was ejected from Friday's win against Portland for unsportsmanlike conduct and needed help keeping her cool against an aggressive Sacred Heart (3-3) squad.

SU coach Joan Bonvicini didn't start Ward on Saturday. She entered early when her replacement, sophomore Makenna Clark, couldn't handle SHU's defensive pressure.

"Ashley's game is a physical game, so people play physical with her," said Bonvicini of Ward, who finished with 11 points and 10 assists. "She has to show poise and not react. It was a time for her to reflect. I can't say how proud I am of how she came back and, I don't want to say redeemed herself, but played within herself and to her strengths."

The win against SHU, which won the Northeast Conference title and made its third NCAA tournament appearance last year, is one of SU's biggest since Bonvicini was hired in 2009 and helped transition the school back to Division I status.

"This is our tournament and we wanted to win it," Bonvicini said. "All of the other stuff, you can think back on it later."

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