BELTON, Texas- Facing the Trailblazers of UNT-Dallas for the second time this season, the UMHB women’s basketball team rose strong on defense stopping several attempts by their opponents to close the gap, and earned a 69-56 victory Monday night in Belton.
Head coach Mark Morefield remarked postgame that the defense showed great improvement after being tested against Abilene Christian last week, limiting the Trailblazers to a mere 32 percent shooting from the field. Though UNT-Dallas was 3-for-10 from three-point range in the first half, the Cru defended the arc perfectly in the second half, as their opponents failed to make all eight of their three-point tries in the second half.
“We did a good job of keeping them out of the paint, I was pleased with our paint protection and I feel like we’re defending the three much better than we have in years past,” said Morefield. “Some of that has to do with our length, but also our athleticims to get out and close out. You look at for example, Abilene Christian, we’ve held them to the lowest number of made threes of any team [they’ve faced this season]. They played Texas A&M last night, A&M gave up 11. I think our three-point defense has really gotten much, much better.”
It certainly showed, as the solid defensive stands translated into consistent offense, with the Cru dishing out 18 assists, passing the ball well and finding open looks, though Morefield noted that he expects more from his squad on that end of the floor.
“Offensively, I felt like we underperformed and need to be better,” Morefield said postgame. “We were getting open looks, we just have to finish, we have to start looking inside a little more. Our fives (post players) are doing a good job, we’re just not getting the ball to them. We need to be better, especially because I feel like we have some of the best bigs in our conference.”
That last statement goes without saying as UMHB dominated in the paint, outrebounding the Trailblazers 53-42, and putting up 28 second-chance points. However, even with plenty of depth at the post positions, from Taylor Kollmorgen, who had a team-high 13 points, to Allaira Jones, Trinity Paeu and Hannah Eggleston, that cannot happen with the majority consistently getting into foul trouble, as was evident Monday night. Kollmorgen fouled out with a little over five minutes to play, and Jones and Eggleston each finished with four fouls apiece. That is bound to happen, according to Morefield, with a team like his; strong, aggressive players who are always finding a way to block shots.
“As you look at the post players we’ve played, obviously we have a size advantage,” said Morefield. “When we played at ACU [foul trouble] wasn’t really a problem, because they let physical play go. [In our three wins] if you look at some of these fouls, we’re not dislodging, we’re not giving a lack of freedom of movement from defensive standpoint, I’m just not seeing that. Now what I will tell you is we have shot blockers. And when you have shot blockers, you’re going to accumulate a high number of fouls. We talk about the fact that we’re a little more physical than probably what [the officials] see day in day out, but on the same token, being a shot blocker, we have to be a little more timed in how we go about it.”
The way the game was officiated came into play very often, and not just in the post. Early in the fourth quarter, UMHB guard Bethany McLeod raced down the floor on a fast break. But as she went up for the layup, UNT-Dallas’ Di’Ambria Whyte knocked her hard from behind, sending her sprawling to the court, and the entire UMHB bench looking for the foul call. It never came. Though the officials were quick to blow the whistle for much of the game, calling a total of 45 fouls throughout the game, they allowed the game to play on, spurring a protest of frustration and confusion from Morefield, who was handed a technical foul seconds later.
Although instances like the one above are bound to cause frustration from a team, the Cru kept their focus, something Morefield attributes to the way his squad practices.
“We don’t call a lot of fouls in practice,” said Morefield with a chuckle. “When we’re in a 5 on 5 situation we don’t call a lot of fouls. We do that for two reasons. One, we tell them in a game, you probably not going to have all the fouls called and two, this is how it is in the road.”
“Where it crosses the line is where it is a hard foul that can injure a player, obviously we’re calling those in practice,” Morefield added.
The second quarter was without a doubt the Crusaders’ golden quarter, as they pieced together an 8-0 run midway through, ignited by back-to-back jumpers from guard Alexia Martin. Taking a 38-27 lead to the half, UMHB carried that momentum into the third quarter, capped by a long-range jumper at the buzzer from guard Olivia Champion, who scored 12 points.
Olivia Champion at the buzzer! UMHB in the lead 52-39 at the end of Q3. pic.twitter.com/lZRj4DyCtG— True To The Cru (@TrueToTheCru) December 15, 2020
Champion and guard Brooke Elliot are two players who have stepped into key roles early in this season, highlighted by their ballhandling skill and ability to knock down shots all over the floor. Against the Trailblazers, each had success driving to the lane, and took to heart Morefield’s command to his team to pass the ball four times before looking for a shot. Elliot contributed six points and four assists, playing over 26 minutes as the Cru’s point guard.
“Olivia just continues to grow, we’re going to give her a couple other positions that she’s going to have to familiarize herself with over Christmas break,” said Morefield. “Brooke’s always been steady with the ball in her hands but she’s had to do it more this year than in any other year, especially with Madison [McCoy] out. Both of them do a great job of advancing the ball and maintaining the pace we like to play.”
UNT-Dallas was short-handed, playing with just six active players, and at one point, five, due to a minor injury that sidelined the Whyte. In fact, they were forced to play the final 32 seconds of the contest with just four on the court, as Whyte fouled out.
Looking ahead, the Cru will head out to Longview, Texas, for a non-conference showdown with ASC rival LeTourneau on Friday at 6 p.m.