SUWANEE -- Duluth's Kayla Nolan had been quiet all afternoon.
Nolan, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, had scored just four points in the first half as she and her Wildcats fell into a 19-point hole midway through the third quarter of Tuesday's game against Spartanburg (S.C.) in the semifinals of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic at North Gwinnett.
However, Nolan erupted for 19 points in the fourth quarter and nearly single handedly pulled her team out of that 19-point deficit as Duluth (5-5) came up just short 53-51, sending the Vikings to tonight's tournament championship against North.
"She has that capability," Duluth head coach Jeremy Huckaby said of Nolan. "She got in the zone, caught fire and really carried us."
Spartanburg had controlled nearly every aspect of the game, starting from the opening tip as the Vikings (7-1) held Duluth scoreless for the first 5:34 of the game to build a 12-0 lead.
The Vikings led 33-19 at the half and extended it to 38-19 halfway through the third as Duluth's offense went through its second scoreless streak of the game that lasted over four minutes.
Even though Nolan finished the contest with a game-high 23 points, it was the Duluth defense that jump started the surge by forcing the Vikings into 13 turnovers in the third and six more in the fourth quarter.
That opened up the door in the final period for Nolan, who scored her first basket since early in the first quarter with 7:03 to play to get Duluth within 10 at 42-32.
But it was Nolan's long-range game that fueled the surge as she hit five 3-pointers in the period, the first of those coming with 3:32 left to play.
Her fourth trey came with just 23 seconds left and got Duluth to within one point at 49-48, but Spartanburg's Chelsea Faulhaber hit a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left to build the Viking lead back to three points.
Duluth's attempt to tie the game came up short as Aliya Thomas missed on a 3-pointer, eventually sending Spartanburg's Ashley Long to the line for two more free throws with 4.2 seconds left.
Long, who led her team with 20 points, hit both shots, making Nolan's last trey at the buzzer a moot point.
"I thought we were too sluggish and just held on to the ball in the first half," Huckaby said. "We didn't finish enough shots and we left a lot of points out on the floor. We did a good job in the second half of creating opportunities with turnovers but we just didn't finish enough shots."
Part of the sluggishness led to a huge rebounding edge for Spartanburg as the Vikings snared 31 caroms to just 19 for Duluth. Faulhaber, who finished with 14 points, led all players in rebounding with nine while also blocking five shots while Lee Lee Young had eight boards.
Free throws also favored the Vikings as Spartanburg went to the line for 24 shots, hitting 15 of those while Duluth was just 4 of 11 from the charity stripe. Duluth also failed the reach the line in the fourth quarter even though Spartanburg was at the limit with six fouls.