Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON- In Thursday night’s battle between the top two teams in the American Southwest Conference women’s basketball title race, Hardin-Simmons proved itself to be the better team on this particular evening.
“It comes down to having a lot of veterans,” HSU head coach Kendra Whitehead said postgame. “They’ve been in this spot before. Even on the road where it’s especially hard to hold a lead, they were able to keep their composure.”
UMHB, ranked 20th in the nation, cut the deficit to just two points with 2:53 left in the final quarter. But Whitehead’s team closed the game on an 11-4 scoring run, prevailing, 87-78, as the visitors from Abilene remained perfect in ASC play, at 8-0.
UMHB drops to 6-2 in ASC play, and 11-4 overall, while HSU improves its record to 11-2 overall.
HSU’s Kiser stepped up in a big way, contributed greatly to HSU’s eight-point halftime lead
HSU entered the game as the league’s top three-point shooting team, averaging eight made shots from beyond the arc per game, and was at more than half of that average by halftime. The Cowgirls were 2-of-2 from three-point range in the opening quarter, then came back in the second at 3-of-6, all of which were made by point guard Paris Kiser.
Kiser, a native of nearby Burnet, was three-of-three from beyond the arc in that 10-minute span, which helped HSU open the second on a 8-0 scoring run. In fact, she connected on all three within the first five-and-a-half minutes of the quarter, as the Cowgirls maintained an inside-outside presence that was hard to stop. HSU finished the quarter on a 6-2 run, taking a 45-37 halftime lead.
“We knew she was always capable of this,” Whitehead said of Kiser, who had 24 points, but was averaging eight per game coming into Thursday. “She’s had a different role at times this year, and is coming back from an injury, so obviously it was nice to her perform like that.”
Free-throw shooting paid dividends for HSU
UMHB sent HSU to the free throw line for a total of 40 shots, 28 of which the Cowgirls made. 18 of those came in the fourth quarter, as HSU converted on 13, nine coming in the 11-4 run that closed the victory.
HSU, while still dangerous from the three-point range, repeatedly drove the ball towards the rim throughout the contest, which led to a number of the free-throw opportunities.
“We do shoot a lot of threes in general, but that depends on what teams give us,” Whitehead said postgame. “Mary Hardin-Baylor traditionally has worked hard to take away the three, so they basicially say, ‘You have to beat us one-on-one.’ That’s what we were having to do; go into the paint and try to score one-on-one or get to the free throw line.”
UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said postgame that the high number of free throws was in no part a result of the officiating, but rather, a lack of awareness on the defensive end. The Cru struggled with getting to the ball-handler late, leading to a number of HSU possessions ending at the charity stripe.
“It didn’t have anything to do with the officials. I can’t even blame it on the officials. That was a complete lack of awareness to guard and move our feet. I’m pretty sure my 11-year-old’s Ralph Wilson team could’ve scored 80 on us tonight.”
The Cru had no issue scoring, but the defense was the major postgame topic of discussion
UMHB put together a number of scoring runs throughout the contest, taking a 4-0 lead right out of the gate. After HSU took its halftime lead, UMHB responded with a 9-4 run in the first five minutes of the third quarter, as Ashley Faux’s three-pointer from the right wing cut the deficit to just three, 49-46. And with 2:53 left in the fourth, Arieona Rosborough, who finished as UMHB’s leading scorer with 22 points, converted on a layup that cut HSU’s lead down to only two. But for every two steps the Crusaders gained on the ASC’s first-place team, they fell one step back.
The reason? It went back to the same reason HSU was granted so many trips to the free throw line: defense.
“We already had 12 defensive scouting report errors by halftime,” Morefield said.
HSU shot 52.9 percent from the field, and that, in addition to the free-throw shooting, allowed the Cowgirls breathing room in the game’s final minutes. The one area in which UMHB did improve between the first and second halves was in its defense of the three-point arc, holding HSU to an 0-for-1 mark in the second half. But that did not mean the visitors from Abilene stopped scoring. 12 of HSU’s 27 fourth-quarter points came in the paint.
“We can sit here and say how much talent we have, but I’ll tell you this, the Bethany McLeods, the Hannah Holts, and the Kasey Jo Hintons, they had grit,” Morefield said. “Right now, we don’t have that fight.”
UMHB hosts McMurry on Saturday at 1 p.m. McMurry is 2-6 in the ASC, and 8-6 overall.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Arieona Rosborough (22), Kenna Gibson (12), Lauren Baker (11)
Rebounds: Aja Holmes (5), Arieona Rosborough (5), Ashley Faux (4), Weade Adeleke (4)
Assists: Lauren Baker (3), Arieona Rosborough (2), Payton Hicks (2)