BELTON, Texas- In a heated rivalry game against a team that had already beaten them once this year, the UMHB women’s basketball team brought its best to Belton Saturday afternoon against Hardin-Simmons. However, the heavy presence of fouls and a rough first quarter resulted in a 71-64 victory for the Cowgirls.
“Today I narrowed it down to three things [as to why we lost],” said head coach Mark Morefield. “One was a poor defensive effort. It came down to that critical situation of being down by three, getting two stops in a row and missing two bunnies. And bottom line, we gave up seven points on seven offensive rebounds and lost by seven. You can’t do those things.”
The loss caused some movement in the ASC West Division standings, as Hardin-Simmons moved to No. 1, with a 4-2 conference record. Because standings are done by win percentage this season, the Cowgirls’ .667 percentage bested UMHB’s mark of .571 following the loss, though the Cru are 4-3 in conference play.
Coming into the matchup, everyone knew what to expect; tough, physical, heads-up basketball.
Early on, the game took a similar path to the first meeting between the two, with HSU capitalizing on several UMHB turnovers and plenty of foul calls to embark on a 8-0 scoring run midway through the first quarter. Head coach Mark Morefield frustratedly called a timeout at the 5:34 mark, hoping to breath some life into his squad that continued to take poor shots and bad passes.
His quick pep talk certainly worked, as the Cru walked back onto the floor with newfound confidence. Taylor Kollmorgen blocked a shot just before Alexia Martin took the ball coast-to-coast for the easy layup. It ended a drought that spanned 5:14 for UMHB, and by the time the first quarter buzzer sounded, HSU led by just five, 13-8. Offense was certainly not UMHB’s strong suit early on, but hard-nosed defense kept HSU in check. In fact, in a statement play, Kollmorgen swatted away a HSU shot with two seconds left in the quarter, spurring the crowd to get on its feet.
Though the Cru cut the deficit to three, 19-16, midway through the second, HSU answered right back, mounting a 13-4 run to close out the half. The difference? The Cowgirls took advantage of their seven offensive rebounds, turning those into seven second-chance points, compared to the Cru’s two second-chance points.
The third quarter followed much of the same pattern until the final five minutes, which was McLeod drain a three from the corner to put UMHB within one possession, 38-35. Kollmorgen followed that up just over a minute later, knocking down a floater to make the score 40-37, in favor of HSU. The teams would exchange buckets for the remainder of the quarter, with the score briefly tied at 45 thanks to a layup from UMHB’s Olivia Champion, before HSU pulled away to hold a 51-48 advantage as the fourth quarter began.
That lead would only grow for the Cowgirls, as HSU hit two threes in the final quarter and shot 50 percent from the field. Though the Cowgirls tried to pull away multiple times, leading 63-54 with 4:25 left in the game, UMHB wouldn’t let it happen, cutting the deficit to four with 38.8 left. That was as close as the Cru would get, as a couple of missed shots and made free throws for the Cowgirls sealed the win for the visitors from Abilene.
Officiating played a major role in this contest, as the physical play warranted plenty of whistles against both teams, including several questionable calls that had both coaches steaming. In fact, some might say the officials played too big a role in the outcome of the game.
“I think we need to be better defensively, we need to be better at moving our feet,” said Morefield. “I do think that basketball is a contact sport and natural body movements are going to allow. I think there’s maybe a little bit over the top protection. If that’s the case, let’s not have defense. Let’s just play shooting games. I think it does have an influence to a degree. We still got to move our feet, we have to be aggressive defensively, but I think the biggest problem is consistency in what one team gets away with and another team can’t get away with.”
A total of 36 fouls were called between the two opponents, and 37 free throws were shot. Of the fouls, UMHB was responsible for 22 of them. Both teams took advantage of the trips to the line, with HSU shooting 84 percent from the charity stripe and UMHB shooting 72 percent.
Pacing the Crusaders when it came to scoring was Champion, who hit several key shots in the fourth and finished with 13 points. Also scoring 13 was McLeod, who was a perfect six-for-six from the free-throw line. Forward Hannah Eggleston added 10 and Kollmorgen came off the bench to pull down nine rebounds.
“She’s got a little bit of the European game to her,” said Morefield when asked about Champion’s performance. “She is great at the eurostep, shot fakes, and change of direction. [Stepping up as a scorer] is good for her, and hopefully this is something that will continue to help her grow and emerge and continue to score more.”
Meagan Johnson, who scored eight points and had six rebounds off the bench, was critical in the Cru hanging in the contest, as she has continued to step up as a freshmen.
“Meagan is somebody who can shoot the ball, she’s great around the rim and she is going to play more,” said Morefield postgame. “She’s going to be someone who is going to play more because she is in the right place at the right time.”
Looking ahead, UMHB will get set to take a road trip to Alpine, Texas, as the Cru will battle Sul Ross State Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT.
Morefield summed it up best when he said postgame, “We have to win the details.”
The Crusaders will certainly look to “win the details” in the coming games, as they remain in a wide-open race for the ASC West Division title.