Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- There is no shortage of significance entering Thursday night’s road matchup for the UMHB women’s basketball team, who is riding a 10-game win streak.
The Cru is preparing to face East Texas Baptist for the first time this season on Thursday, in a matchup that will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. CT in Marshall. The Tigers are ranked No. 14 in the nation by D3hoops.com, and No. 15 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, holding a 9-2 record.
But it is the last meeting between the two programs that will perhaps be on the minds of both teams. On March 13 of last year, the two battled for the ASC Tournament title in Alpine, Texas, with UMHB earning a narrow 75-72 victory for its second consecutive conference title. At the time of the contest, ETBU had beaten the Crusaders twice on the year, was 25-0, and the country’s No. 2 team. None of that mattered to unranked UMHB, however, who, as head coach Mark Morefield put it, “had been through the fires” during the 2020-21 season.
But now, in a new year and a new season, there is a different kind of confidence for the Crusaders entering the matchup. UMHB is unranked, yes, but the Cru sits atop the American Southwest Conference standings, with a perfect 8-0 record. Overall, Morefield’s team is 11-2, with its losses to Colorado College and Trinity (TX) coming in November.
“It probably plays more for [ETBU] than for us,” Morefield said of the influence of the 2021 ASC Tournament Championship on Thursday’s game. “Just because they had the perfect season on the line, and a chance to win a conference championship. We have to be prepared, because we know that they’re going to come out and want to vindicate that championship loss.”
Weighing in UMHB’s favor is the fact that ETBU has not played since Dec. 18, in a dominant 81-33 win over Howard Payne. The Tigers’ last two scheduled ASC matchups, against Belhaven and Ozarks, were cancelled due to health and safety protocols.
“Just because they haven’t played since December 18,” Morefield has told his team, “don’t think that they’re not going to be ready for this.”
The Crusaders are coming off a week that featured three victories, the last two by double digits. After a 66-59 win over Concordia on Jan. 3, UMHB posted its highest scoring effort of the team in a 92-81 victory over Sul Ross State, though Morefield sought improvement on the defensive end, after his team allowed a 40.8 shooting percentage from the Lobos.
“It was the largest point production we’ve given up to an opponent this year,” Morefield said postgame. “Obviously that bothered me. Our energy and effort wasn’t there on the defensive end. We were very slow-reacting.”
In response on Saturday afternoon, UMHB’s defense kept Howard Payne at bay, forcing 16 turnovers en route to a 77-53 victory. The Crusaders used a height advantage in the paint, out rebounding the Lady Jackets offensively 17-5 in the first half, which led to 18 second-chance points.
“Obviously offensive rebounding is crucial,” Morefield said following the victory. “We want to have those extra opportunities and second-chance points. It’s another 20 seconds to move the ball and get what we want offensively.”
Finding scoring opportunities will be critical again Thursday, facing an ETBU team that has performed at a consistent rate defensively, limiting opponents to just 51.6 points per game, the best mark in the ASC. That success has been in large part due to the Tigers’ guard play, and creates an interesting storyline considering the experience found in each team’s backcourt.
Senior guards Taylor Singleton (9.8 PPG), and Bridget Upton (8.5 PPG), along with graduate student Mallory Stephens (8.5 PPG) lead ETBU offensively, while freshman standout Arieona Rosborough (11.8 PPG), and senior Bethany McLeod (8.0 PPG) pace the Cru.
“We know that their guards make up who they are,” Morefield said of ETBU. “Mallory Stephens is someone who really stands out. But I wouldn’t want a better group of guards than we have. If we’re going to battle, this is who I want to go to battle with.”
UMHB is currently riding a 10-game win streak, and will face Belhaven (7-3, 3-3 ASC) on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT, after Thursday’s contest at ETBU.
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.