BELTON- Having stumbled in back-to-back games early last week, the UMHB women’s basketball team took the court on Thursday afternoon in need of a convincing “bounce-back” performance.
The Crusaders found just that in a dominant 83-45 victory over Piedmont, scoring 20-plus points in three of the game’s four quarters, while holding the Lions below 10 points in two quarters.
“Anytime you can get a win over a team above .500, it helps your cause,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said. “I think what this win is about for us is to be able to play on a consistent level and see how we bounced back after two losses.”
UMHB improves to 8-3, still ranked 16th in the nation per the Dec. 19 D3hoops.com Poll. Piedmont drops to 5-4 overall.
3 takeaways from the win
Points in transition paid dividends, as did an overall shooting confidence
Throughout the last several games, UMHB had been forcing turnovers and tallying steals at a consistent rate. So many in fact that through 10 games, the Crusaders averaged 13.8 steals per game, good enough for the 22nd-best average nationally. But UMHB had not been able to cash in on a number of those takeaways, and finish with points on the offensive end.
Against Piedmont, the Cru not only forced 28 turnovers, with 15 steals, but scored 28 points off of those turnovers, allowing them to pull away in the second quarter.
“We’ve been getting a good amount of steals, but we haven’t been converting,” Morefield said. “It started with ETBU, when we had a shooting slump there. But tonight, we were finishing on those [fast-break plays].”
A prime example of that came in UMHB’s monumental run between the first and second quarters, after Piedmont’s Colby Reed connected on a three-pointer with 1:21 left in the opening period, cutting the Cru’s lead to 16-15. That sparked perhaps the single-most important scoring spurt for UMHB in the victory, a 24-2 run that saw nearly everything click on both ends of the floor. At one point, midway through the second, UMHB scored on eight straight possessions.
“We’ve tried everything, and sometimes the best thing to do is just leave them alone,” Morefield said of rebounding from scoring struggles in recent contests. “I think that was the biggest thing. We just let them [work through it]. Sometimes when you talk about it, it can become worse.”
Payton Hicks and Lauren Baker led the way on the 24-2 run
That 24-2 run was a collective effort, with six different players scoring in that span. But it was the tandem of Payton Hicks and Lauren Baker who spearheaded the charge, with aggressive, heads-up defense, and a relentless pursuit towards the rim on the offensive end.
With about five minutes left in the second quarter, Baker scored on five straight possessions, with a steal and layup making it 28-17, followed by a three-pointer that swished through the net. A free throw 30 seconds later, then another layup and jumper, made the new score 36-17. Hicks provided the assists for the latter two scores, and followed with a layup on the next possession.
“I think they finally grasped tonight, instead of sitting there and trying to zigzag their way [to the basket], they went right by people,” Morefield said. “They utilized their best attribute, which is their speed.”
That offensive approach was seen throughout the entire team on Thursday afternoon, as UMHB tallied 40 points in the paint, rather than settling for long-range shots. It fell in sharp contrast to the subpar performance in the Dec. 20 loss to Puget Sound, according to Morefield.
“If you look at the Puget Sound game, and in increments against Trinity, there was a lot of zig-zagging, and not going right by those opposing guards. That’s what those teams want you to do. After watching film and talking about it for the last few days, they finally grasped it, and you saw it tonight.”
Despite the large lead, UMHB’s defense did not let up
While UMHB’s offense ran in high gear, leading 67-39 after three quarters, the defensive effort proved just as notable. Even with such a large lead, and a number of freshmen having been inserted into the game, the Crusaders made it tough on Piedmont’s offense through the fourth quarter. In fact, the Lions’ six fourth-quarter points was their lowest-scoring mark in any of the game’s four quarters.
“What we kept talking about during the second half is, ‘We’re not letting up,’” Morefield said. “‘We’re going to keep pushing.’ When we made that run to give us some separation, we were playing position defense. We were in the right places at the right times.”
Putting together a complete-game effort, rather than just two or three good quarters might have been what impressed Morefield most. After YuYu Adeleke’s layup with 6:55 left in the third gave UMHB a 21-point lead, the Crusaders’ advantage never dipped below 20 points.
“It seems like we can’t handle prosperity,” Morefield noted of establishing significant leads, then seeing them slip away. “You can’t make a 22-point lead at halftime [like we had today] now become a four-point game. You have to make it a 30-point lead, then 35, then 40. They accepted that. It’s a lot of staying engaged defensively.”
UMHB hosts UC Santa Cruz on Monday at 2:00 p.m. in Belton. It will be the third Top 25 matchup the Crusaders have played this season.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Arieona Rosborough (19), Lauren Baker (16), Payton Hicks (10)
Rebounds: Arieona Rosborough (7), Addy Self (6), Jaycie Brisco (6)
Assists: Jaycie Brisco (5), Payton Hicks (4), Catalina Cortez (2), Lauren Baker (2)
Team shooting stats: 40.5% FG, 23.8% 3-point, 82.4% FT