UMHB’s Bethany McLeod (center) had a team-high 13 points in Saturday’s win (Photo courtesy of the UMHB Athletics Department)
BELTON, Texas- Momentum can change ever so quickly in the game of basketball. That was no more evident than in the final minute of Saturday night’s women’s basketball season opener, a 73-72 victory for UMHB over Rhodes.
The Cru saw its 15-point lead dwindle to three, then one, then evaporate, as Rhodes took a 72-71 lead with 1:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. A turnover and a missed jumper on the offensive end put UMHB in a tough position with under 30 seconds to play, forced to either intentionally foul or go for the steal.
The Crusaders chose the latter of the two.
Guard Bethany McLeod, who finished with a team-high 13 points, forced a steal near the Rhodes baseline, and then sent the ball well up the court with Lynx defenders sprinting in pursuit. The perfectly placed pass was gathered by forward Ashley Faux, who laid the ball in with 13 seconds as the crowd rose to its feet, and UMHB retook the lead.
In a blink of an eye, the roles were reversed, with Rhodes now needing a score of its own. But Alexia Martin was ready, as the UMHB guard intercepted the inbounds pass. Cheyanne Bonilla was then intentionally fouled, and while she missed both free throws, the UMHB defense held the lead.
Rhodes had the final shot, but the driving floater was blocked by Kaitlyn Kollmorgen, and UMHB escaped with a win in its first contest of the season.
“It was great to go out and compete,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said postgame. “It was good to get those first game jitters out and get into the flow of how we expect our players to perform this year.”
The Cru opened the contest by missing its first two shots from the field before forward Olivia Champion drained a midrange jumper to knot the score at two apiece. A 9-1 scoring run late in the first quarter, highlighted by consecutive jumpers from freshman Arieona Rosborough, gave UMHB a 17-10 lead. It was a lead UMHB held for the better part of the next three quarters, though the offense had multiple cold spurts, including the first half of the second quarter, as UMHB tallied just five points over the first four minutes.
But just as quickly, the Crusaders found their offensive rhythm, scoring nine points over the final 2:31 of the quarter. The final five points of the half were recorded by Bonilla, who hit a jumper in the paint with just over a minute, and connected on a three at the buzzer, giving UMHB a 13-point, 43-30 lead heading into the locker room.
Rhodes’ comeback did not truly ignite until three minutes into the final quarter, slowly chipping away at the lead after a Kiera Downey jumper cut the deficit to eight.
UMHB scored a mere three points over that six minute span that led to Rhodes’ 72-71 lead, as Bethany McLeod hit a three-pointer with 4:50 on the clock to briefly widen the margin to five.
“First, we have to be disciplined on defense,” Morefield said of watching his team’s double-digit lead dwindle in the fourth quarter. “They were shooting way too many free throws. We put them on the line way too much. We want to use our athleticism and physicality but we have to be disciplined in that.
“Offensively, we were settling for way too many threes in the second half. I felt like we got completely away from what got us that lead from an offensive standpoint. And that was getting to the paint, attacking the paint, and finishing at the rim.”
One of the biggest positives in the win was the depth UMHB showed. The Crusaders tallied 34 points off the bench, as six players scored nine or more points. McLeod led the team with 13, followed by Rosborough, who had 10 in her collegiate debut. YuYu Adeleke also played well in her first collegiate contest, with six points in 12 minutes.
“Arieona and YuYu are two freshmen that did really well,” Morefield said postgame. “It’s all part of a learning curve as a freshman but I felt those two came out and played well with great intensity, and were able to help us build a lead early on.”
Morefield noted that UMHB’s depth will only improve as the season progresses. Three of the Cru’s starters on Saturday; Kollmorgen, Faux, and Kasey Jo Hinton, started the first game of their collegiate careers.
“When you have that many contributors, it’s going to be really hard to beat us as we continue to mature and grow as a team,” Morefield noted. “It’s going to be hard for teams to guard us. We have to continue to get those contributions.”
Kollmorgen tallied a team-best 12 rebounds, and Champion dished out a team-high three assists. The contributions were widespread on both ends of the floor, and UMHB passed its first test of the week. But the Crusaders face an opponent that is just tough in Trinity (TX) on Sunday at 4 p.m. CT. The Tigers fell to ETBU in overtime on Saturday 76-71.
“We’ve got to be better disciplined defensively,” Morefield said of what he wants to see from his squad against Trinity. “That’s the biggest thing. I love our aggression and that we have guards who will wear you down. But we’ve got to stay disciplined. Offensively, we’ve got to be aggressive with the ball. We can’t be passive.”
While it was far from flawless, at the end of the day, UMHB is 1-0. And that is quite an accomplishment in a round-robin tournament that features three conference tournament winners as well as the nation’s No. 2 team.
“A win is a win,” Morefield said. “You can only take something from a win and clean it up. We’ll take a win, especially in this tournament where all four teams are receiving votes [in the D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll]. If you’re coming away with a win here, it’s pretty good, because the competition is at a high level.”