Faced with a treacherous and steep incline early, the Lamar Lady Cardinals keep churning and pecking and finally overtook the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears in the final 2:11 Saturday afternoon in a tight contest that began as a blowout.
The Sugar Bears (11-7, 3-2) jumped to a 17-2 lead in the first 6:30 and expanded that to 20-5 with 12:11 left in a first half. The Lady Cardinals switched to a zone defense and the UCA offense unraveled over the next 32 minutes. The Lady Cardinals, who were shooting 18.8 percent from the field with 8:39 left in the first half, grabbed their first lead on a bank shot by Brateicka Mock with 53.4 seconds left and held on for a 60-56 victory over the Sugar Bears before 1,427 spectators.
It was the second victory for Lamar (14-4, 3-1) in a week and the Lady Cardinals’ first win of the season when they have scored fewer than 60 points.
"We just kept battling and started playing a little better defense when we went to a zone," Lamar coach Larry Tidwell said. "We’ve got a seasoned team and we just hung around."
For most of the game, the Lady Cardinals used a 3-2 zone that focused on the Sugar Bears’ perimeter shooters, then evolved into a 2-3 when UCA tried to penetrate.
After taking the 20-5 lead, UCA went 7:25 without a field goal the first half and shot 38.2 percent from the field. The Sugar Bears were six of 26 from 3-point range.
"We are gonna have nights like this," UCA coach Matt Daniel said. "We shot 26 3s, and I thought we passed up some good looks. The other night (against Nicholls) we made a lot of shots. Tonight, we missed them. Lamar is solid all over the floor. We missed some easy shots late, but we still battled."
One of the key junctures appeared innocent at the time. The Sugar Bears were up 30-20 in the final seconds of the first half and could have gone for the last shot with the shot clock off. With about nine seconds left, Desiree Rogers missed on a 3-pointer, Lamar rebounded and Kalis Loyd missed a layup. However, the ball glanced of the rim to Monique Whittaker, the trailer, who hit a 7-foot at the buzzer to pull the Lady Cardinals within eight.
"Anytime you get behind like that, cutting the lead under 10 before half is a big deal as far as momentum," Tidwell said. "This team knows how to come from behind. We were behind 12 at Houston and came back to win."
Taking advantage of the Sugar Bears’ cold shooting, the Lady Cardinals drew within one point four times in the second half, and each time the Sugar Bears came up with a play or two to repel the run.
Lamar pulled within 50-49 with 4:52 left on a 3-pointer by the Lady Cardinals’ floor leader, Jenna Plumley, who was only five of 17 from the field. UCA missed but Lamar failed to block out Megan Herbert, who was on the spot for a tapin that gave the Sugar Bears a 52-49 lead. Trashanna Smith scored a layup off a steal to pull Lamar within 52-51 with 3:37 remaining. Herbert responded with another rebound basket but Plumley tied in at 54 with her fourth 3-pointer at 2:13 and Lamar took its last timeout at 2:09.
On their next three possessions, the Sugar Bears turned the ball over twice and missed a layup.
Mock banked in her lane jumper with the shot clock running down to give Lamar its first lead at 53.4.
Sugar Bear freshman Courtney Duever, playing one of her best games, missed the front of a one-and-one then Desiree Rogers had a driving layup attempt rim out, but UCA retained possession with 27 seconds left on a jump ball. Plunley anticipated the inbounds pass into the backcourt nicely and stole the pass. Whittaker and Plumley were four for four at the foul line in the last 24 seconds to seal the win for Lamar.
UCA scored only two points in the final 2:33. The Cardinals made six straight free throws in the final 6:31.
"In a tight game like that when you’re battling, hitting 12 of 14 free throws for the game (10 of 12) in the final period helped," Tidwell said.
The Lady Cardinals, who had only six players get significant minutes had four in double figures, led by Plumley and Whittaker with 16 each.
Herbert had 21 points and 18 rebounds for UCA. Duever, who helped the Sugar Bears to their early lead with an inside shot and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions, added 14, nine in the first half. The Sugar Bears regular guards (Westin Taylor Nakeia Guiden, Micah Rice Destinee Rogers), sometimes hurrying shots off Lamar’s zone, were a combined six of 29 from the field.
The UCA women now take to the road to face Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday night.
"I told the girls that I don’t think two losses is gonna get it done in this league, and to not hold their heads down," Daniel said. "This league has gotten a lot better and we’re gonna have to go to Southeastern, a tough place to play, a figure out how to get a win."