Above photo of Bethany McLeod by Neil Faux/@FauxFx31
MEMPHIS- There is no bigger stage than the NCAA Tournament. And under the bright lights of a first-round contest, trailing Webster 76-75 with 36 seconds to play, the UMHB women’s basketball team found its game-winning shooter in one of the team’s most experienced players.
Bethany McLeod, a member of all three of UMHB’s NCAA Tournament teams, connected on just one three-pointer Friday evening, but it proved to be the shot of the game, possibly the season for the Crusaders, who advanced to the Round of 32 with a 79-76 victory over a previously undefeated Webster University team.
“We had a quick ball reversal, and then her making that shot, that’s just a senior leader making a shot to win a ballgame,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said.
Webster had two chances to respond, but the Crusader defense did not allow the Gorloks to score, forcing a missed layup in the paint, then a turnover, holding on for the victory, and securing a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. UMHB will battle conference rival ETBU at 7 p.m. CT.
The Cru opened the game on a 10-2 run, firing on all cylinders as four of its first five shots fell through the net. Despite Webster chipping away as the first 10 minutes unfolded, UMHB entered the second quarter holding a 23-17 lead, and only extended that advantage over the next eight minutes. Ashley Faux’s free throw made it an 11-point game with 2:14 left in the half, but in the blink of an eye, Webster took charge. The Gorloks showed exactly why they entered with a 25-0 record, mounting an improbable 13-2 run in the span of 120 seconds.
It was virtually the same story in the third quarter. UMHB regained the lead and widened it back to nine points, only for Webster to cut it to four over the last 35 seconds of the third quarter. The roles were soon reversed in the fourth, however, as Webster jumped out to a 66-61 lead with 4:28 remaining, This time, the Crusaders responded with points of their own, slicing Webster’s lead to a single point five times down the stretch, before McLeod finally broke through and gave UMHB the lead for good with her late three-pointer.
“When you’re facing a team that presses all the time, they can make a run and stay in it,” Morefield said postgame. “I thought we stayed in tune and had resilience.”
With UMHB preparing to meet ETBU for a third time this season, here’s a closer look at Friday’s victory:
The starting core carried the offense: All but 12 of UMHB’s points came from the production of four of the team’s five starters: Arizona Rosborough, Kaitlyn Kollmorgen, Ashley Faux, and McLeod. What was notable about the performance was the fact that three of those four were playing in the first NCAA Tournament game of their careers. Rosborough paced the Cru with a double-double, tallying 25 points and 13 rebounds, while Kollmorgen nearly had double figures in both categories as well, scoring a career-high 16 points with nine boards. Faux had 15 and McLeod contributed with 11 on the day. Of note, the fifth starter, Kasey Jo Hinton, did not score, but did dish out the assist for McLeod’s clutch late-game three-pointer.
Solid shooting percentage was a notable improvement: UMHB shot 41 percent from the field, which was a considerable improvement from the 26.5 percent mark the Cru posted in its ASC Tournament semifinal loss to UT-Dallas. In more of a rhythm offensively, UMHB scored 70-plus points for the first time since a Feb. 12 road win over Sul Ross State.
Second-chance opportunities: The Crusaders tallied 20 second-chance points on 21 offensive rebounds. UMHB, which won the battle on the boards 46-36, recorded a 20-plus offensive rebound performance for the fourth time this season, and the first time in the program’s NCAA Tournament history.
What Needs Improvement
The turnover number piled up at times for the Cru, which is a natural result of a pressing defense such as Webster’s. However, taking care of the ball is a major factor in postseason games of this caliber, and 23 turnovers is a statistic that will need to be improved moving forwards.
UMHB battles ASC rival ETBU on Saturday at 7 p.m. CT. The Tigers took down Rhodes 65-53 on Friday night.
Morefield: “We’ve got to rebound the ball. We can’t give up 21 points off 18 offensive rebounds [like we did last time we played them]. Which we’re fully capable of doing. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”