Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
ALPINE- Make no mistake about it. Some teams play their best basketball as a result of the performance of an individual player, or success in a facet of the game. The UMHB women’s basketball team performs at its best when the fourth quarter rolls around.
With its perfect 16-0 conference record hanging in the imbalance 400 miles from Belton in far West Texas on Saturday afternoon, and the score tied at 46 after three quarters, the nation’s No. 14 team finally began firing on all cylinders in the form of a 12-2 run.
That scoring spurt in the first five minutes of the final quarter proved sufficient, as the Crusaders put a tenacious Sul Ross State team away, winning 76-66. UMHB has now won its last 19 contests, 10 of which have come on the road.
After UMHB took a 4-2 lead two minutes into the game, the Lobos responded with a 10-2 run and held a 22-17 advantage after the first 10 minutes. But the Cru locked in defensively in the second quarter, and scored the first seven points of the period, four of which came from Kaitlyn Kollmorgen. By halftime, UMHB led 27-26, having held SRSU to just four points in the quarter.
“The first quarter defensively, we weren’t guarding the ball,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said postgame. “We addressed it going into the second quarter and in the second quarter we held them to just four points. That defense allowed us to hold the lead going into halftime.”
Following a third quarter that saw SRSU outscore UMHB 20-19, the Crusaders broke away. Alexia Martin drained a jumper, just before Jacqueline Cilliers connected on consecutive three-pointers, and almost in the blink of an eye, the tied ballgame became a 10-point advantage for the Cru. UMHB converted on nine of its 14 fourth quarter shots, scoring 30 points over the final 10 minutes, sealing the win.
With UMHB having won its 20th game of the year, here’s a closer look at the victory:
The bench produced offensively: For the second straight game, 35 of UMHB’s points came from its bench players, which included seven from Cheyanne Bonilla, and six apiece from Cilliers and Martin. Having that quality even without the entire starting five in was something Morefield noted postgame as being especially critical on the road, with the Cru playing its fourth game in the week.
Morefield: “We needed help from the bench, especially today. We’re getting back to that old form of where we can trust our bench to come in and build that lead.”
UMHB let its defense produce offense, especially in the fourth quarter: If there was one key to the fourth quarter run that solidified the victory, it was turning the defensive intensity into points on the offensive end. The Cru exhibited that to the fullest extent in the fourth, holding SRSU to just one three-pointer in eight attempts, playing hard-nosed defense.
Morefield: “We let our defense generate our offense. I think that was the biggest thing. That’s what built that up. We got the lead to 10 points and forced them to call a timeout. A lot of that was generated by our defense.:”
Strength on the boards took away second-chance opportunities for Sul Ross: Kollmorgen, Olivia Champion and Bethany McLeod each pulled down seven rebounds, contributing to 49 boards for the Cru in the game. By staying consistent in rebounding SRSU’s missed shots, it limited the Lobos’ second-chance scoring opportunities, which proved critical down the fourth quarter stretch. In one notable play that extended the lead to 10 with 6:43 remaining, Champion rebounded a missed jumper from Cilliers and laid it in, one of the Cru’s 19 offensive rebounds.
Morefield: “From an offensive standpoint, [the rebounding] was huge. It allowed us to extend possessions. And defensively, it took away [Sul Ross’] second-chance opportunities.”
What Needs Improvement
Morefield noted postgame that the defense improved throughout the game, but a large part of SRSU’s seven three-pointers in the first quarter was because the defense did not come up far enough on the perimeter. That limited the Lobos’ chances driving to the lane, but it also opened the door to several open long-range shots, which gave SRSU its five-point lead at the end of the opening quarter.
“I felt like we weren’t meeting them at the [three-point] line a few times. We were still two to three steps behind the line, which gave them a full head of steam. We had two possessions in the second half where we didn’t even guard the ball. We have to be better at that.”
UMHB faces Belhaven for the first time this season on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Belton. The Blazers are 10-8 on the year, 5-8 in ASC play.