Cotton Blossoms win once, fall twice

By their very nature, competitive sports require the athletes who play them to have short memories. That, University of Arkansas at Monticello women’s basketball coach Tanya Ray  said after Monday’s Cotton Blossoms’ game, is something for which she is thankful.

In the midst of the first of two five-games-in-10-days sentences the Great American Conference has levied against all its teams now that 12 squads are playing basketball, the Blossoms have seen their highs and lows.

The stretch began last Thursday at Harding University’s Rhodes-Reaves Field House—where no opponent enjoys visiting—with a frustrating 82-50 defeat, then continued two days later at Steelman Field House as UAM demolished Henderson State University 77-54 to begin a three-game home stand.

Monday, the Blossoms came crashing back down to earth as rival Southern Arkansas embarrassed them 75-59. Ouachita Baptist University visits Thursday, then UAM heads to GAC-leading Arkansas Tech University on Saturday before the Blossoms get a chance to breathe.

The 1-2 start to the almost back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back league contests dropped UAM into sixth place in the GAC standings at 5-4. The Blossoms are now 8-5 overall.     

“We did not shoot the ball well from the field (21-for-62 overall for 33.9 percent),” Ray lamented of her team’s performance against SAU, “and were extremely poor from the three-point line, only going 2-for-21. We got open looks from their zone but everyone seemed to have an off-shooting night.

“Going into the game we knew we would have to do a good job against their transition offense; we allowed them to get too many easy baskets in transition and it killed us. We also did a poor job communicating on defense in our zone. It was an overall disappointing performance.”

Southern Arkansas outshot UAM by nearly 30 percentage points on Monday night—60.3 percent to that dismal 33.9. The Muleriders raced out to a 9-2 start and, if possible, things got worse for the Blossoms from there.

After a timeout, UAM responded with an 11-4 spurt to take a 15-13 lead at 1:50 of the first quarter, but SAU led at the end of 10 minutes by one. In the second period, the teams traded point-for-point until SAU’s Shanna Holmes drilled a three-point shot that gave the Muleriders a lead they would not give back.

To the Blossoms’ credit, though, UAM fought back and trailed by just 37-36 at intermission but SAU exploded in the second half. The Muleriders’ hot shooting continued coming out of the halftime locker room as SAU opened with an 8-0 run to go up by nine. UAM failed to score for the first five minutes of the half before a Jordan Goforth three-pointer brought the lead back down to six. The Muleriders then broke the game open later in the period as an 18-5 run gave them their largest lead of the game at 55-41. The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter and the Blossoms trailed 59-45 heading into the final 10 minutes after being outscored 22-9 in the third.

Goforth, the second-leading scorer in all of NCAA Division II, led the Blossoms in scoring with 20 points and was one of two UAM players in double figures. The other was true freshman Ayesha Wahid, who chipped in with 10.

SAU’s Rosa Bryant, herself on the NCAA D2 top 10 scoring list, led all scorers with 25 points.

Saturday was a different story. Goforth bettered her season average with 27 points as the Blossoms sprinted out to a 17-8 lead over the Reddies in the game’s first five minutes.

Henderson didn’t entirely go away but UAM steadily gained ground until its biggest lead of the game—30 points—was posted at the 3:55 mark of the final stanza.  

Senior Nikki Mullen, with 12 points, and a couple of youngsters joined Goforth in double figures for UAM. Sophomore Cheridan Burroughs and freshman Mia Hayes each scored 10.

“It was a good overall performance, especially after a rough night against Harding,” Ray said. “After a night when things really didn’t go our way, I thought we came out and bounced back well. Henderson’s a good team; if you had told me the score was going to be how it ended before the game started, I would have said you were lying.

“I thought we came out with a lot of energy, a lot of fight, a lot of want-to. We’ve been dealt some tough blows this year with injuries and things like that but it’s good to see kids continue to fight. Every time somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up. We try to regroup and we’ve been able to do that so far this year.”

Last Thursday in Searcy is a day, Ray said, she and her team would just as soon forget. Harding jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first five minutes and maintained at least a three-point lead through the opening period. The Lady Bisons began to pull away in the second period, grabbing their first double-digit lead at the 8:41 mark and later using an 8-0 run to hold their biggest lead of the first half at 18 points with just moe than four-and-a-half minutes remaining before halftime.

HU led 39-25 at the break. The Blossoms were their own worst enemy in the first two periods with nine turnovers and seven missed foul shots.

UAM cut the deficit down to single digits early in the third period, but the Lady Bisons used a string of three straight made three-pointers to get on top by 22 heading into the final 10 minutes. HU maintained at least a 20-point lead throughout the remainder of regulation.

“It was a combination of things,” Ray said of Harding’s shellacking. “We played a very good team on their home court—that’s a tough environment for anybody—and we made a few mistakes that were costly.

“Plus, I didn’t feel the game was officiated the way it needed to be. With have a player like Jordan on your team, the leading scorer or the second leading score in the nation, a lot of teams are coming in and trying to manhandle her. I didn’t think the crew handled that well.

“I thought they let a lot of things go. I wasn’t happy about it. Our team got frustrated with it, Jordan got frustrated with it and I got frustrated with it. But we’ve talked about it as a team and we’re moving on. We can’t dwell on what other people are going to try and do to stop her or stop us; we’ve just got to go play.”

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