ABILENE, Texas- Through it all; the four-game losing skid, the challenges in closing out games, and the youth of the team, UMHB women’s basketball head coach Mark Morefield always saw Wednesday’s performance on the horizon for the Cru.
“We have a talented team, the problem was that time wasn’t on our side,” said Morefield postgame. “When you process that, you look at this season and how it has gone. We played 19 games out of a possible 25. You’re playing new players in new roles. You’re playing freshmen, and sophomores and there’s all these moving pieces. The regular season time just wasn’t on our side. We’re turning that corner at the right time.”
The UMHB women’s basketball team upset No. 1 West seed Hardin-Simmons in the quarterfinals of the ASC Tournament, winning 79-75 in an overtime thriller that saw the Cru erase a nine-point third quarter deficit and freshman Kaitlyn Kollmorgen rise to the occasion with a 15-point, 15-rebound performance.
“You got two [teams] that played last year for the conference tournament championship, you knew it was going to be a battle, [and] it was a rivalry game so that even adds more to it,” said Morefield. “This is tournament time. Nobody wants to go home so you’re going to get everyone’s “A” game because they know what the endgame is.”
Hardin-Simmons, who came into Wednesday’s contest as the West Division regular season champions and ranked No. 11 in the nation by D3hoops.com, was challenged in a way it had not been challenged this season, especially as overtime rolled around.
The contest lived up to its expectations, and that was no more evident than in the five-minute overtime period that was needed after HSU tied the game at 65 with 24 seconds to play.
“We looked at everyone who was in [the game] and said ‘We’re going to win this game,'” said Morefield when asked what he and his staff told the team in the huddle before the overtime.
The Cru walked onto the floor prepared to do just that, as forward Hannah Eggleston followed up two free throws from post Taylor Kollmorgen with a jumper to widen the margin to 69-65 with four minutes to go. HSU put together a 5-2 run with 1:28 left in the game, cutting the lead to 71-70. The Cowgirls would not get any closer, as UMHB, sensing the gravity of the situation, raced away to score four answered. The 75-70 lead sealed the well-deserved victory for the Cru, as they would add four more free throws in the final 22 seconds, and head back to Belton with their ASC title hopes still intact.
While the conclusion to the game is one that highlights UMHB’s season, the Crusaders struggled in the first five minutes of the contest, shooting just 1-of-9 from the field, and trailing 10-4 at the 5:55 mark. The offense then began to find traction, ending the quarter on a 10-4 run that tied the score at 14. A midrange jumper from Eggleston 12 seconds into the second quarter gave the Cru its first lead of the game, and that advantage soon became 20-14. HSU countered with a 14-8 run late in the second, and took a 34-32 lead at halftime.
As the Cowgirls had done in the previous two meetings against the Cru, they pulled away to take a 41-32 lead with 6:14 left in the third quarter. UMHB would cut into the advantage, though HSU again went up by nine, leading 49-40, with 1:18 to play in third.
In a decisive fourth-quarter moment, guard Cheyanne Bonilla knocked down a three-pointer with 7:32 left in regulation, putting the Cru back in front 54-53 as part of a 10-4 scoring run to begin the final period. The margin never widened to more than three points for the remainder of the quarter, though UMHB did not allow HSU to regain the lead. The back-and-forth period gave way to overtime, and the Cru’s dramatic postseason win.
Kaitlyn Kollmorgen had her best game statistically in a UMHB uniform, with career highs in points (15) and rebounds (15). Also making the performance notable was the fact that the Houston, Texas native bounced back after fouling out in Saturday’s regular season finale, playing 21 minutes with a mere two fouls.
“What I saw in Kaitlyn is what she’s going to be in the future,” said Morefield following the win. “She’s going to be a double-double machine. The work she’s putting in, calming down in the post, coming up with key rebounds, coming up with key buckets in post, and not forcing anything but letting the game come to her, that’s what I saw from Kaitlyn.”
Bonilla played a career-high 29 minutes, as the freshman came off the bench to score 12 points, dish out five assists, and lead the team at the point guard position.
“With Cheyanne, she’s our future guard,” said Morefield. “She handled it perfectly, she’s a maestro with the ball.”
Eggleston followed up a 31-point effort on Saturday by scoring a team-high 20 points against HSU,
“This is who Hannah is,” said Morefield of her high-scoring performances. “Hannah has a good feel for the game and you don’t have to get on Hannah very often because Hannah gets on herself. For her to bounce back from a 31 point performance to have a 20-point performance, but do it pretty efficiently from a field goal percentage standpoint, she’s a resilient young lady. I love coaching her and she has a great mind for for the game. She’s getting in that comfort zone, and that’s going to be a problem for a lot of people for the next couple of years.”
Entering the tournament, the Cru’s motto was similar to that of many teams in the postseason: Survive and advance. UMHB earned the right to advance on Wednesday night, and will face No. 2 East seed UT-Dallas on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. CT in Alpine, Texas. The Comets defeated the Cru on January 7, 62-58, and are ranked No. 8 in the country by D3hoops.com.
“This team’s learning curve for these last five games and the teachable moment that they’ve gone through is only going to make them more dangerous,” said Morefield. “Everytime they’ve been out these last five games, they’ve found ways to win. That’s the basis of our culture.
“We call this the redemption tour.”