Blossoms split in Oklahoma

Riding eight hours one way to play basketball games of course means a team will have to ride eight hours back home. Winning one of those games—particularly the one before boarding the bus for the trip home—makes the entire trip seem easier.
That’s exactly what happened to the University of Arkansas at Monticello Cotton Blossoms last weekend. Thursday, UAM a 79-53 decision to Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla. but bounced back Saturday with an 88-70 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Okla. on UAM’s longest road trip of the regular season.
UAM’s performance in far western Oklahoma left the Blossoms at 4-7 for the season but, more importantly, kept them in touch with the leaders of the Great American Conference at 3-3. Heading into back-to-back contests against teams currently higher in the standings, UAM is in a three-way tie for fifth place.
Thursday, the Blossoms entertain Southeastern Oklahoma State University, which at 5-2 currently sits in a second-place tie. Saturday, East Central University visits Monticello; te Tigers are alone in fourth place right now. Tipoff for the Southeastern game is 5:30 p.m. at Steelman Field House. Saturday’s game starts at 1 p.m.
“This is a big week for us and it will be important to take care of home court,” Blossom head coach Tanya Ray pointed out. “We have two really good teams coming in so we will need to be ready to play. I think if we can come with energy and play together we can accomplish our goal of going 2-0 this week.”
Last weekend was a tale of opposites. Against Southwestern, UAM never recovered from a 19-10 first-quarter explosion for the Bulldogs—and never led. Saturday, the Blossoms were the ones sprinting out of the gate. UAM managed 25 points in the opening 10 minutes while holding Northwestern to 12—and were never headed.
“We really struggled to score against SWOSU,” Ray noted. “They do a really good job of pressing you the whole game and I thought they were able to take us out of what we wanted to do offensively. The constant pressure really wears you down. You focus so much energy breaking the press that you don’t have much left once you get into your offense. I thought defensively we were good for the first three quarters.
“We looked really tired in the fourth and gave up way too many points. They are good at what they do and are a top 25 team for a reason. Hopefully, we have learned from that loss and will be better prepared the next time we see them.
“Our game against NWOSU, I felt, was a total team effort.  We had six players in double figures and were able to put up 88 points against a team that zoned us the entire game. We did a great job of sharing the ball and I thought we did a great job of answering their scoring runs. We got key defense stops when we needed and did a great job of converting of steals this game.
“Whitney O’Dell was great and was able to step up knock down her open looks. She had been struggling with her shot the past few games but was there for us on Saturday. I also thought we got a big contribution off the bench from Dezirae King. She played well and with a lot of confidence and was able to knock down some big shots against their zone. We need her to continue to play with that same confidence moving forward.”
Thursday, MacKenzie Johnson netted 13 points and Berniezha Tidwell 11 as they were the only UAM players to reach double figures against Southwestern. Two days later, Johnson again paced the Blossoms with 18 points but she had ample assistance. Tidwell scored 15, O’Dell 14, King 13, and Chari Swift and Jaida Harden 12 apiece in the win at Northwestern.

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