“Be strong like bamboo”: Leadership, cohesiveness, guide No. 15 UMHB women’s basketball in weekend road duels

Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru

BELTON- Sudden change. 

It was a theme of last season, whether you look at the Covid cancellations, or postponement of games due to the winter storm. And this season, though in a lesser amount, the same two reasons have contributed to the shifting of the UMHB women’s basketball team’s schedule.

Three weeks ago, the Crusaders made a 259-mile trip across two state lines from Marshall, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, for a scheduled game at Belhaven. Only, an hour before tip-off, the Blazers were forced to call the game off due to health and safety protocols. And this past week, the Cru saw its games against LeTourneau and UT-Dallas, pushed back, switched, and flipped as winter weather swept across the Lone Star State. 

Rather than playing LeTourneau Thursday at 5:30 p.m., the road contest was changed to Monday at 4 p.m., putting the focus on the UT-Dallas matchup. But then that conference showdown was pushed back from Saturday to Sunday at 3 p.m., causing the team to react to yet another change in schedule.

The ability to adapt on the fly is just another example of the tenacity of this year’s team, ranked No. 15 in the nation on a 15-game winning streak. Very little has kept the Cru down for long, a testament to the leadership of the upperclassmen. 

“I think it’s our senior leadership and the mentality that our coaching staff keeps us focused on when changes occur,” Morefield said. “One of our leadership lessons this year has been “be strong like bamboo”.  It’s something we learned as a coaching staff from one of our leadership studies that Gonzaga men’s basketball uses.  That is something we have gone back to these last 2 weeks as we close out the regular season.”

UMHB comes off a week in which it added a fourth Top 25 win to its resume, defeating then-No. 22 Hardin-Simmons in Belton, 74-72. The Cru found a way to win in the final minutes, limiting the Cowgirls’ effectiveness from beyond the three-point arc, which had been critical to HSU’s success entering the contest. 

That win gave way to a 72-48 defeat of winless McMurry on Saturday afternoon, extending UMHB’s conference record to 13-2. When the team steps on the court Sunday, it will have been eight days since it last played a game, a wide stretch during the conference schedule that typically sees a team play twice in a week. But with an opportunity to rest and regroup, Morefield said he felt this break was “the best thing that could happen” to his team.” 

“This is the best thing that could happen to us,” Morefield said. We get to heal up some aches and pains a couple players had and get rest. Now we will be healthy and at full strength. 

“Along with our depth I feel we are built better for 2 games in 2 days than most. If I was an opponent the last thing I would have wanted to do is give us 8 days to get better and rest  to be stronger down the stretch.”

In both victories, the guard play stood out for the Cru. Arieona Rosborough contributed with 14 points and eight assists in the HSU win, and Alexia Martin was responsible for three of UMHB’s four three-pointers on Saturday. Paula Rosello and Lauren Baker, both midseason transfers, made their debuts in the purple and gold, with Rosello accounting for four points, a rebound and a steal in five minutes against McMurry, while Baker saw limited action in both wins, displaying excellent ball-handling ability. Gigi Waddell is a third midseason transfer at guard who has played with confidence in four games this season. 

“That’s always a tough thing, because you’re adjusting on the fly,” Morefield said of the Cru’s three midseason guard transfers. “I think each of them are making headway. It’s more of a comfort level, than anything. Getting comfortable with the other players, and going out there and not being worried about executing this or that.” 

For a team that has NCAA Tournament aspirations, this is critical. Especially since the three guards could all compete for added minutes over the next several weeks. 

“If you can add three guards that bring quickness and IQ at this part of the season, I think it’s only going to help,” Morefield said. “That’s going to help with our depth down the stretch, and give us added alternatives and things opponents have to prepare for.” 

There is little doubt that both of UMHB’s opponents this particular week will be prepared. UTD fell narrowly in overtime in the last meeting, and in December, LeTourneau saw its 10-point first quarter lead against the Cru vanish in the fourth. With those close results, combined with the growing target UMHB has on its back, makes these crucial games for both opponents. 

UTD and UMHB have battled closely over the last several seasons, with the Cru holding a 7-4 record against the Comets under Morefield. Not only did the last meeting, a 79-68 win for UMHB on Dec. 16, need overtime to decide a victor, but the programs also met in the 2019 ASC Championship game, a 63-58 victory for UTD. 

“[Head coach] Polly Thomason does a great job with her team,” Morefield said of the Comets, who are receiving votes in the Top 25 poll. “They’re very gritty. They execute well. They’re going to be ready. They want to stay in the conference race as well.” 

LeTourneau is also fighting for ASC tournament seeding. A quality offensive team, the Yellowjackets average 70.7 points per game and shoot 38.4 percent from the field, led by guard Keauna Whitfield, who has tallied a conference-high 18.9 points per contest. 

Though Whitfield poses a legitimate offensive threat, shooting 39 percent from the field and playing just over 36 minutes per game, Morefield does not believe just one player will change the outcome, especially against UMHB’s balanced defense.

“Obviously, [Whitfield] is a talented scorer,” Morefield said. “She’ll put up her numbers, and get her shots up, but I’ve never seen just one player beat a team that plays as collectively as we play.”

If there was one thing Morefield was most impressed with when evaluating his squad’s performance last week, it was in regards to the early intensity, especially on the offensive end. 

“I like how we came out of the gate against Hardin-Simmons,” Morefield said. “We weren’t sluggish. And we maintained composure. We can’t get into a hole early on. We have to know teams are going to make runs. We have to be prepared for those and counter them.” 

Morefield added that playing to their standards will be key, especially on the road. And achieving hat standard begins with consistency. 

“I feel that if you’re a championship-caliber team, there’s never a peak,” Morefield said Tuesday. “You’re always consistent in how you approach practice, in how you approach games. 

“There’s always things you can do better, and there’s always going to be a lull in a long season where you might taper off at one point, but if you’re a championship team, ‘peak’ shouldn’t really be something you’re using.”

Riley Zayas covers UMHB Athletics as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He can be emailed at rileyzayas@truetothecru.com.

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