KATY, Texas – Having escaped Central Arkansas with a 67-65 win on March 2, Abilene Christian was aware how tough the Sugar Bears would be heading into Friday’s second round of the Southland Conference women’s basketball tournament.
It was that knowledge that helped the fourth-seed Wildcats shake out of a first quarter funk and deliver an impressive performance at Merrell Center.
ACU drilled an SLC women’s tournament record 16 3-pointers, while using a 22-4 run in the first half to break open a tight contest on their way to an 82-54 win over UCA, earning the Wildcats a 1 p.m. date against top-seed Lamar.
“We talked all week about we’re going to go in and establish a new 3-point shooting record in the conference tournament,” ACU coach Julie Goodenough said. “That’s why we ran sets late in the game because we knew we were close to that.”
The Wildcats (21-9) also broke the SLC Tournament record with 35 3-point attempts as seven different players connected from long range.
Second Team All-Conference guard Breanna Wright knocked down four treys for Abilene Christian before spending the fourth quarter on the bench.
Wright finished with 14 points, leaving her a point shy of crossing the 1,000-point mark in her career.
While ACU’s record-setting long range barrage was the highlight, the Wildcats defense played exceptionally well, holding No. 8 seed UCA (12-18) to just 33.9 percent shooting from the field.
The Sugar Bears were a combined 7 for 30 in the second and third quarters when they were outscored by a total of 41-16.
“I think this was probably the most locked in on defense we’ve been all year,” said ACU forward Lexie Ducat, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. “We executed it really well. Everyone in the background was talking. Our defense was a huge team effort.”
“We lost focus,” said UCA’s second team All-Southland guard Kamry Orr, who finished her final game with 13 points. “We didn’t stick to the game plan.”
Up 15-11 with 2:44 to go in the first quarter, the Sugar Bears’ season began to come to apart.
UCA missed seven straight shots during a scoreless stretch of 7:49 before Orr’s jumper closed the margin to 19-17.
However, its momentum took a huge blow 12 seconds later when Orr was tagged with her third foul.
“No secret to the run that we made,” Goodenough of Orr’s foul trouble said. “We really took advantage of that. She’s the heart and soul of that team. I told her at the end of the game, ‘you’re my favorite player in the league.’”
With Orr on the bench, the struggling UCA offense went a stretch of over three minutes without a basket as part of a brutal quarter that saw them shoot just 3 for 13 from the field.
The offense began showing signs of life near the end of the half, but any chance at carrying good fortune in the locker room were dashed when Wright buried a trey just as the halftime horn sounded, giving ACU a 38-21 halftime lead.
UCA mounted a brief uprising early in the third quarter before the Wildcats put the game away by hitting five of six shots during an 11-0 run that Ducat capped off with a layup, giving ACU a 54-29 lead with 3:05 to go in the quarter.
While the Sugar Bears found offensive life in the fourth quarter as coach Sandra Rushing cleared the bench, the effort fell far short to impact the outcome.
ACU led by as many as 31 points early in the fourth as it pushed toward its record-setting performance.
“We knew that Abilene could shoot the 3,” Rushing said. “I feel like we probably didn’t have any gas in our tank. We just couldn’t get anything going.”