To allow an opposing player to score 24 points is not typical of MIAA Defensive Player of the Year and Lady Blue senior guard, Cindy Keeley. But it was OK in Saturday’s South Central Regional semi-final game because Keeley’s foe, Emily Brister, sophomore guard, was the only West Texas A&M Lady Buff producing offensively in their 54-39 defeat.
“We are a big defensive team, we like to lock down and guard them,” said Keeley. “It worked out for us tonight. Obviously she did get her points and a fair share of them, but our team played hard and when it came down to it, we got what we needed.”
Brister went 8 of 13 from the field and was the only Lady Buff to reach double figures. The sophomore guard had 12 of the Lady Buffs’ 17 first-half points.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of making her earn her points,” said Ron McHenry, Lady Blues head coach. “They got to a point where they were trying to make her drive and either make her go to the foul line or make a big play. We had the rest of them kind of standing around watching her.”
Brister was the only individual shooting well the first half. The Lady Buffs shot 29 percent from the field and the Lady Blues weren’t far ahead, shooting 32 percent in a half that was neck and neck until Keeley made the only fast break play of the game – hitting a layup with 4:56 left in the half to put the Lady Blues on top 21-17, and sparking a 5-0 run to end the half 24-17.
“They were pushing up on defense, getting us up on our heels a little bit,” said Jessica Aebi, senior point guard. “But that’s when we just have to sneak the ball through, make strong plays and get the ball to the basket.”
The Lady Blues’ run continued in the second half, getting off to a 10-2 run to lead 34-19. But the Lady Buffs came herding back with eight unanswered, until Brooke Ubelaker, senior forward, hit a 3-pointer to stop the momentum. Ubelaker and Aebi had several treys down the stretch that allowed them to maintain their lead and ensure victory.
“I’m going to take what comes to me,” said Aebi. “The shots just happened to be there and I took them.”
The win advances the Lady Blues to their third straight NCAA Regional Final tonight against the Lions of Texas A&M University Commerce. The Lions advanced after knocking off No. 1 seed Missouri Western 73-72 Saturday.
“People look at [the Lions] as an underdog since we’re not ranked,” said Denny Downing, Lions head coach. “I can’t say enough about their will and determination.”
The Lions, in their first-ever NCAA Regional appearance, are writing themselves off as this year’s Cinderella. The Lions defeated Emporia State 81-77 in the first round of the Regional Friday.
“I thought coming in that Emporia was going to be really strong,” said McHenry. “Commerce didn’t really let them get in the game last night. If they can beat Emporia in a postseason game, they are awfully good and awfully talented.”
Then, Saturday, the Lions upset the Griffons after being down 41-31 at half. Down by one, Katedria Mosley, Lions junior forward, hit a layup as time expired to give the Lions a 73-72 win in front of a stunned Griffon crowd.
“I had to make it,” said Mosley. “I had to make it for my team or I would have felt like I let them down if I didn’t make it.”
Now the Lions are looking to knock off the third-straight MIAA team in a span of four days. Although, for the Lions, tonight is just another game.
“It’s just another game, nobody really intimidates us,” said Kanani Marshal, Lions senior guard. “[The Lady Blues are] a good program, they’ve been here and they get it done. We just have to show up ready to play.”
As for the Lady Blues, with the Elite Eight in their sight, Aebi explains they will be focused solely on the current game.
“We are just going to take it one game at a time,” said Aebi. “I think that’s our mental mindset right now. Once we get past that we will focus on the Elite Eight.”