Above image by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
ALPINE, Texas- UMHB women’s basketball head coach Mark Morefield always had a feeling he and his team would see ETBU again this season.
But the way things have played out seems to have been written up for television.
The Cru entered the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed, having had a roller coaster of a regular season that ended in a 77-75 loss to Howard Payne. However, Morefield said prior to Wednesday’s quarterfinal victory over Hardin-Simmons that his team was “not your typical fourth seed”, and he could not have been more accurate. The Crusaders stunned the Cowgirls in Abilene, despite the fact that HSU entered the contest as the West Division No. 1 seed, and had beaten UMHB twice in the regular season.
Though the Cru ended up “knee-deep” in game preparation for a semifinal against UT-Dallas, UMHB never had to step onto the floor to advance to the championship game, as the Comets were forced to withdraw from the tournament due to Covid-19.
“We were knee-deep in preparation for UTD, and its unfortunate because we’ve had some great battles come tournament time,” said Morefield. “Coach Polly [Thomason] is a great coach, a great friend and I feel bad for their team ending the season the way it did. We’re both competitive programs and we both would have rather played each other.”
All of that has led up to this long-awaited rematch with the Tigers, who are No. 2 in the nation, the No. 1 East Division seed, and a perfect 25-0 on the year. Against the Cru on February 13, the East Division champions won 62-48 in Belton. On paper the odds seem to be stacked in favor of ETBU, but there is no question in Morefield’s mind that his team has grown in its confidence and has the talent to come up victorious Monday night.
“The season has been nothing but a roller coaster ride,” said Morefield. “We started out the season 4-1, I believe we were 4-1 in conference and its just a roller coaster ride.
“This is what we talked about before the Hardin-Simmons game. We’re a talented team. People sit there and say we might have had some moments where we might have underachieved. There’s no question. But we’re a talented team. We have size at the guard position, we have athleticism, and we have great post.
“People sit there and say, ‘It was an upset on Wednesday’. We were also picked to win the division. This season has been a lot of peaks and valleys.”
Additionally, the team had a chance to scout ETBU in person on Sunday, as the Tigers fell behind in the first half against Sul Ross State, only to roar back and clinch a spot in Monday’s championship with a 72-56 win. ETBU did not have the same opportunity, being that the Cru did not play, and will have to prepare based off of film from the HSU victory.
“No question,” said Morefield when asked if advancing straight to the championship game will give UMHB an advantage when it comes to scouting reports. “What we did against HSU was going to be completely different than what we did against UTD in our game plan. Each game we try to add wrinkles and things based on the personnel and who we’re playing.”
The team may have just one four-year senior in Brooke Elliott, and one active graduate transfer in Taylor Kollmorgen, but the majority of the rotation played in last year’s ASC championship game victory over UTD and has the experience of taking the floor in what may be considered the biggest game of the season.
“The biggest thing is, you look at our rotation, Bethany [McLeod] played in [the conference championship game] last year, Brooke played in it last year, A’Lexiss played in it last year, Olivia may have not played in it, but she was around it. There’s five girls right there that have been a part of it.”
Over the past three years, those conference tournament runs have included meetings with ETBU, decided by a total of three points over the last two contests. Last season, the Cru defeated ETBU 67-50 in the semifinals. The year prior, it was a 64-62 win, again in the semis. During the 2017-18 season, the Tigers edged out the Cru 71-70 in the championship game.
“The way the tournament is, and obviously the last three years we’ve played them in the conference tournament, you always get a feeling you’re going to see them,” said Morefield of playing ETBU. “I feel like we have another opportunity, especially the way we played [on February 13]. I feel like we’re a better team than how we played the last time we played them. We’re a much different team than we were on February 13.
The ASC championship tips off at 6 p.m. CT in Alpine, Texas on Monday evening. UMHB will be aiming to earn its second consecutive conference tournament title, while the Tigers need just one more victory to finish the season undefeated.
As Morefield said on Wednesday night, “We call this the redemption tour”.