NORTH LITTLE ROCK — With a shooting touch that wouldn’t thaw, the North Little Rock girls turned up the heat at the key time Thursday night against the Conway Lady Cats.
With the undefeated Lady Charging Wildcats shooting six of 33 from the field in the second and third quarters and the first two possessions of the fourth quarter, the Lady Cats drew within 39-34 with 7:25 left.
Then, North Little Rock (23-0, 9-0) found a gear that got it through. Using a trapping defense and crashing the boards hard and getting points and foul shots off turnovers, the Lady Charging Wildcats produced a 14-3 run in the final seven minutes that secured a 53-40 victory at North Little Rock Arena.
The closest any team has played North Little Rock this season was 11 by Watson Chapel.
The NLR games were makeup games from Tuesday night’s postponements because of snow and ice.
"We shoot 64 percent against Russellville last Friday and come out and can’t hit anything on our home court. You think the snow had anything to do with it?" said NLR coach Darryl Fimple. "But there are gonna be nights like this. And Conway has some size that can bother you."
During one juncture, NLR missed six shots in a row, of all varieties. The Lady Charging Wildcats missed more than a dozen shots point-blank under the basket.
"But I think this is what we needed," Fimple said. "We needed a game to go into the fourth quarter. We haven’t had a game, particularly in conference, that our starters had to go out and make plays in the fourth quarter. And we had to do it while we’re dead-legged. That showed from being out of school five days and finally get a practice in yesterday (Wednesday). I could have told you it wasn’t going to be pretty."
The Lady Cats (14-7, 6-3) used rebounding, shot blocking and shot altering by post Krista Robinson and drives and pullup jumpers by Taylor Gault to hang close.
After NLR opened an 15-point lead early in the second quarter, the Lady Cats drew within 28-22 early in the third period before Makesha Hawkins and Sandy Jackson helped build the lead to 10 with layups after steals. A transition layup by Jasmyn Wilkins and two free throws by Gault drew Conway within 39-34 early in the fourth quarter.
Hawkins hit two free throws after a rebound, Jerrica James followed with two free throws after a steal and Hawkins powered for an inside basket to help the Lady Charging Wildcats pull away for good. Not helping matters was Tamara Heard, who had to chase NLR’s guards most of the night, fouling out with 6:22 left. She had five of the 11 fouls charged to the Lady Cats.
"North Little Rock is so talented and so deep that it’s unbelievable; they are so quick and they really crash the boards," said CHS coach Janet Taylor. "They got in there and got some big rebounds late. But we hung in there and executed well at times. Their depth got to us. We’ve had about three games this year that we’ve been at full speed and we still have some injured players. When we have our best players on the court, we’re pretty good."
Gault was the only player in double figures for Conway with 17. Meghan Lewis added seen and Wilkins six. Hawkins and Lexus Williams had 11 for North Little Rock and Casse Vaughn added nine.
"There are gonna be nights like this," said Fimple. "You just hope they’re now instead of later (tournament time)."
The Lady Cats host Little Rock Central tonight.
The game was extremely physical.
"There was blood on the floor three times and we used three ice packs," Taylor said. "Playing two physical teams like North Little Rock and Central was what I would prefer."
The Wampus Cats (18-2, 9-0) followed a common pattern while coach James Bates didn’t.
The Conway boys mounted runs late in the second quarter and early in the third to take a 14-point lead then fought off a series of runs in a 65-54 victory over the Charging Wildcats, the second-place team in 7A Central.
The victory gave the Wampus Cats at least a three-game led over everyone in conference and the tiebreaker over North Little Rock going into tonight’s home game against Central.
It was somewhat of a painful effort for Bates, who broke a bone attached to his ankle on his left leg after falling on ice this week. He walked to the floor on crutches and coached most of the game while seated with his left foot in a cast.
"No fun," he said.
What was fun was the victory, not often pretty, on the Charging Wildcats’ home court.
"We got out to the lead and couldn’t throw the knockout punch," Bates said, "A good team is gonna makes runs at you at home. It’s been that way for much of conference. We been methodical. We’ll get ahead and make plays when we had to."
Leading the Cats’ effort was Preston Purifoy, who helped Cats surge to a 34-25 lead at the half.
Then, Teshawn Sims hit a 3-pointer and a runner in the lane to turn back one run and Colt Fason got a putback and scored in the lane to repel another.
NLR pulled within 58-52 with 2:47 left before t he Cats hit seven of 10 free thorws in the final 2:05 to preserve the victory.
Kenyon McNeiall added 15 points for Conway, Sims had 10 and Micah Delph nine.
Reggie Bryles, who sparked a couple of the surges with 3-point shots, had 18 for North Little Rock. The Charging Wildcats’ big men, Chris Campbell and Mike Evans, had 10 and nine, respectively.