Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- For UMHB women’s basketball head coach Mark Morefield, the final 10 minutes of even the most critical games have been what separates the Crusaders, 11-0 in American Southwest Conference play, from the rest of the field this season.
In two of their three Top 25 victories this year, the Cru has outscored its opponent by seven or more points in the fourth quarter, and in the third, a 79-68 win over UT-Dallas in overtime, UMHB outscored the Comets 15-6 in the extra period.
“We want to get into our opponent’s bench,” Morefield said earlier this week. “For the first 30 minutes, most opponents’ main rotations will be fine. It’s that last 10 minutes that’s the separator. We feel like when that last 10 minutes is there, we’re still accelerating.”
UMHB, the nation’s No. 20 team by D3hoops.com, prepares for a matchup against one of those nationally ranked opponents in No. 22 Hardin-Simmons (12-3, 7-3 ASC) tomorrow night at the Mayborn Campus Center in Belton. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. and admission is free.
“There’s no question that they’re offense really centers around shooting the three,” Morefield said of HSU Tuesday morning. “They take a high volume of threes. I think we have to stick with the same message we’ve had, and make sure we’re defending the perimeter and know personnel.”
The Cowgirls, coming off a 56-51 loss to East Texas Baptist a week ago, are led by the trio of guards Brittany Schnabel, Hallie Edmondson, and forward Parris Parmer, all of whom average double figures in scoring. HSU leads the ASC in three-point shooting percentage, at 31.2 percent from beyond the arc. In fact, 11 of the team’s 13 first-quarter shots against ETBU came from three-point range.
“It’s a testament to what they do offensively,” Morefield said, “that they’re going to run what they want to run and do it well. They’re not going to deviate from that.”
UMHB has a successful recent track record against HSU, winning the last two meetings between the programs. The Cru upset the Cowgirls on their home floor in the conference tournament quarterfinals on March 10, 2021, winning a 79-75 overtime contest, before rolling to a 64-52 win in Abilene on Dec. 11 earlier this season.
One critical aspect in each of those victories was the rebounding advantage for UMHB. The Crusaders won the battle on the boards in both games, outrebounding HSU by 10 in the meeting last December. The Cowgirls no longer have post Kaitlyn Ellis, who graduated following last season, and the emergence of sophomores Kaitlyn Kollmorgen (7.8 reb/game) and Catherine Kaiser (3.5 reb/game), and freshman Aja Holmes (4.3 reb/game) has added to UMHB’s depth in the post. But with HSU shooting a high quantity of three-pointers, the guards will play a bigger role in the rebounding game than usual.
“They shoot a lot of threes, and long shots equal long rebounds, so we need to stay out on the perimeter and know the angle of the shot coming off [the rim] is going to create a long rebound,” Morefield said. “We can’t give them those second-chance opportunities.
“On an offensive rebound, a good three-point shooting team is looking for a quick kick-out, because everyone is sucked in on the rebound.”
The Crusaders have been plenty strong offensively by their own accord, leading the ASC in points per game (73.3), and shooting 41 percent from the field. Forward Ashley Faux paces the Cru with 11.8 points per game, and guard Bethany McLeod comes off a week in which she averaged 20.0 points per game over the course of victories at Concordia (TX) and Ozarks.
The defense has now become the major point of emphasis for Morefield and his staff, especially after Ozarks shot 63 percent from three-point range against UMHB last Thursday, in a narrow 73-67 win for the Crusaders.
“It really wasn’t anything that they were doing,” Morefield said of Ozarks’ above-average scoring effort. “It was more or less attributed to us not being able to get the job done defensively.”
One aspect that also factored into that struggle on the defensive end was the distance UMHB had logged in the span of the week leading up to last Thursday’s win. Between road trips to Marshall, Texas, Jackson, Mississippi, which was canceled shortly before tip-off, and Austin, in addition to the 471-mile drive to Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, UMHB logged 2,000-plus miles on the bus.
“Obviously, that’s a lot of mileage,” Morefield said with a laugh of his team’s recent travels. “I think it showed a little bit last week.”
But the time on the road did not phase McLeod, who led UMHB in scoring and steals in each of the Cru’s victories. She tallied 17 points and came up with a game-sealing steal against Concordia before recording a 23-point, five-steal effort two days later at Ozarks, both of which were season-highs.
“Obviously she has a great feel for deflections,” Morefield said of McLeod’s defensive ability following the 67-58 Concordia win Tuesday. “She came up with a big one tonight to cap it off with an ‘and-one’ after a great steal and a great finish.”
Back in Belton and alone atop the ASC standings, there is a visible confidence within the UMHB program. Playing inside the Mayborn Campus Center gives the Cru an advantage, and it is a welcome change after playing its last three games on the road.
“The road can be taxing,” Morefield said. “Being home is huge. We’re excited to be home, and going back to our normal schedule.”
Following Thursday’s matchup, the Cru hosts McMurry on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Belton. The Warhawks are winless in ASC play, at 0-10, as UMHB won the first meeting of the year on Dec. 9 82-52.