Cotton Blossoms extend winning streak to six games before falling

Conference seasons are long and grueling, especially in basketball. When a team is afforded an opportunity to improve itself—particularly on the road—it had better seize that chance.

The University of Arkansas at Monticello’s women got it half right on a year-opening trip to Oklahoma, extending a winning streak last Thursday against Southern Nazarene University with an 83-74 win before stumbling in the Cotton Blossoms’ first-ever league meeting with Oklahoma Baptist University, 59-54, on Saturday.

It doesn’t get any easier going forward. UAM, now 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the GAC, concludes a three-game road trip to tipoff 2016 this Thursday at Harding University before hosting Henderson State University two days later at Steelman Field House.

The Blossoms and Lady Bisons begin at Rhodes Field House in Searcy at 5:30 p.m. UAM then entertains Henderson at 2 p.m. in Monticello to start a quick three-game home stand. Rival Southern Arkansas University visits for a rare Monday game next week and the Blossoms must make a quick turn-around before hosting Ouachita Baptist University on Thursday, Jan. 21. Both the SAU and Ouachita contests tip off at 5:30 p.m.

Aside from the 2-4 Tigers, the home stand will feature teams in the top half of the GAC standings. Harding comes into Thursday’s matchup at 5-1 in the conference and the Lady Muleriders are currently tied for fourth with UAM at 4-2.    

“We had no energy Saturday,” a disappointed UAM head coach Tanya Ray said. “We got out-hustled. (Oklahoma Baptist) got loose balls and was able to get crucial offensive boards when we had to have stops. They were physical with us and I feel like they wanted it more.”

In Shawnee, Okla., there were a total of five lead changes in the first half with neither team leading by more than four points until the Blossoms closed out the second period on a 5-0 run to hold a 25-20 at the halftime break.

After shooting 25 percent from the field in the first two periods, the Bison dominated the third period, outscoring UAM 23-7 and posting a scoring run of 12-0 that turned into a 19-3 burst. Oklahoma Baptist held its largest lead of the game of 16 points early in the fourth period.

The Blossoms responded with a 9-0 scoring run to cut their deficit down to five points with 3:43 remaining in regulation on a pair of free-throws from senior Jordan Goforth. UAM later cut it to four on a three-pointer from senior Nikki Mullen with 2:47 left.

With the Blossoms forced to foul late, the Bison made 5-of-6 foul shots in the final minute to seal the win.

UAM finished the game shooting 34 percent from the field (21-for-62), 29 percent on three-pointers (6-for-21) and 79 percent on foul shots (11-for-14). The Bison shot 37 percent overall (19-for-52), 32 percent beyond the arc (6-for-19) and 77 percent on foul shots (10-for-13).

Only the five UAM starters recorded points in Saturday’s loss, led by a game-high 19 points from Goforth—only the second time this season that an opponent has held the No. 2 scorer in all of Division II below 20 points. She also led the team in rebounding with eight. Mullen followed in scoring with 15 points, 12 coming on three-pointers.

Tasha Edge led the Bison with 18 points and 10 rebounds, receiving GAC Women’s Player of the Week for her efforts.

Two days earlier, it was a different Blossom team that conquered Southern Nazarene in Bethany, Okla. UAM used an explosive start to record its sixth consecutive victory of the 2015-16 season in the nine-point win.

The Blossoms jumped out to a 22-6 lead in the first five minutes of Thursday night’s contest. During that run, UAM was 8-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 on three-pointers and 2-for-2 on foul shots. Sophomore Taylor Collins led the charge with 10 points during that surge.

“We shot the ball really well, especially from the three-point line,” Ray said of her team’s play against the Crimson Storm. “We did a good job of moving the ball in our offense to get open looks against their defense.”

The Blossoms maintained a double-digit for nearly the rest of the first half. SNU posted a 7-3 scoring run in the final minute of the second period to cut its visitors’ advantage to nine, 29-20, at the halftime break.

UAM started the second half much like it did in the first with a 12-1 run early on to hold a 15-point lead of 41-26 on a three-pointer from Mullen at the 4:15 mark of the third period.

SNU responded with a 16-5 run over the next seven minutes to trim the UAM lead down to four points.

Goforth took over at that point and scored 10 straight points for UAM to put the Blossoms back up by double digits with just under two minutes remaining in the third period. Goforth finished with her fourth game of the season with at least 30 points and seventh straight game with at least 20. She registered 33 points in last Thursday’s win, 24 coming in the second half.

With SNU forced to foul late, the Blossoms made 10-of-11 foul shots in the final minute to seal the win and even the team’s road record this season at 2-2.

UAM ended the game at 46 percent from the field (26-for-57), 54 percent on three-pointers (13-for-24) and 86 percent on foul shots (18-for-21). In addition to Goforth’s game-high 33 points, Mullen finished with 17 points and a season-high four made three-pointers. Collins and freshman Ayesha Wahid also reached double digits in scoring with 16 and 11 points, respectively.

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