Above photo by Neil Faux/@FauxFx31
LEXINGTON, Kentucky- There are times when a win does not show up on the record as a win. There are times when coming back from down 17 points to cut it to a three-point margin late in a game, is telling enough of a team’s resilience and drive.
The UMHB women’s basketball team did not come away with a victory in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 3 Transylvania, the nation’s last remaining undefeated team, instead falling 63-58 in a heartbreaking finish. In the words of head coach Mark Morefield, “this one stings.”
But the way UMHB finished the game, especially after the pattern it began with, spoke volumes of something that defined the Crusaders throughout the 2021-22 season. This was a team whose tenacity was never questioned.
Down 17 entering the fourth quarter, it appeared Transylvania was on its way to victory, and an Elite Eight appearance in Saturday’s sectional final. But the Crusaders were not finished. That was put on full display in the form on a 17-7 run that cut the deficit to 57-50 with 3:13 remaining. Bethany McLeod then made a shot from short-range to cut it to a 61-58 deficit with 32 seconds left. But the Pioneers extended the lead back to five, and UMHB simply ran out of time to counter, unable to get off a clean shot with under five seconds left.
“For me personally, this one really is hard,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said. “This one really stings because I know what we’re capable of. I feel like we were the better team out there. But we just weren’t making shots.”
If anything, it is an experience-builder for the young core of this squad, the majority of which will be back next season. The season ends with what has been a memorable season in the Sweet 16, with a 24-5 record, including wins over ranked opponents such as ETBU and Hardin-Simmons, as well as a pair of NCAA Tournament victories last week in Memphis.
Coming out of the gates, Transylvania made it known why the Pioneers were the nation’s last remaining undefeated team. Three minutes into the opening quarter, Transylvania led 8-2, as UMHB struggled to shoot consistently for much of the first half. After the Pioneers extended their advantage to 14-5, the Crusaders went to the post, as Aja Holmes and Kaitlyn Kollmorgen scored the next six points, making it a one-possession game with 29 seconds left. But once again, Transylvania’s outside shooting presence was evident; Kennedy Harris drained a three-pointer with five seconds remaining, giving the hosts a 19-11 lead at the end of the quarter.
Aided by the Cru’s 3-for-23 shooting mark in the second quarter, and two-minute scoring drought to close the period, Transylvania took a 35-21 halftime advantage, The Pioneers were strong on the boards throughout the entire first half, out-rebounding their opponents ,34-21 .
The margin was widened to 17 by the end of the third quarter, 50-33, as Transylvania continued to shoot for a high percentage. Kollmorgen scored the first points of the second half on an excellent move in the post, getting around the defender and to the rim for a layup, but the Pioneers did enough to remain in front, outscoring UMHB 15-12 in the quarter.
It all culminated in the fourth, as UMHB dominated the stat sheet for the final 10 minutes, with 25 points, as the Crusaders tallied 15 more rebounds than Transylvania and limited the Pioneers to a shooting percentage of 30 percent from the floor. But a 1-of-9 mark from three-point range, the only three-pointer UMHB made in the contest, challenged the visitors from Belton down the stretch.
Here is a closer look at how last night’s contest unfolded in Lexington:
Final Rebounding advantage- After starting the game by allowing Transylvania seven offensive boards, the Cru responded by holding Transylvania to 12 offensive rebounds for the final three quarters. That was in addition to winning the overall battle on the boards, 54-49. Kollmorgen’s 11 rebounds allowed her to record her second double-double of the season, adding 11 points. Catherine Kaiser added 10 rebounds off the bench.
Morefield: “We challenged them at halftime, especially Kaitlyn and Catherine, and they answered the call. We needed more production out of them. We knew we could hurt [Transylvania] on the inside.”
Bench continued to produce: For as challenging of a contest as it was, when UMHB finally found its footing, it paid big dividends, especially in the depth the coaching staff was able to bring off the bench. Aja Holmes had a pair of consecutive field goals late in the first quarter that helped keep the Cru in it early on, and Kaiser added eight points, along with her rebounding. Cheyanne Bonilla also had four points, including a fast-break layup with 1:15 left in the game, that cut the Transylvania lead to five.
What Needs Improvement
It does not jump out on the final stat sheet, but the offensive rebounding in the first half was critical in Transylvania earning its double-digit lead early on. The Pioneers tallied seven offensive rebounds to UMHB’s one in the opening quarter and finished with 13 second-chance points, getting numerous second-chance opportunities on possessions as the Crusaders struggled to track down Transylvania’s missed shots.
Morefield: “The biggest difference was between our reaction time and their reaction time. I thought we were very slow-reacting to the ball off the rim. Their reaction time was just a step faster than us. I don’t think it was anything they did, we weren’t reacting to the ball quick enough, and securing the ball, and doing things we’re fully capable of doing.”
UMHB looks ahead to next season, having reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in program history. Friday’s game marked Bethany McLeod, Kasey Jo Hinton and Alexia Martin’s final appearances as Crusaders.
There will be more to come in the following days covering the impact of this year’s team, and the incredible season that unfolded, including setting the program records for consecutive wins (20), and conference wins (18). This was truly a special team.