File photo by Rick Nation
BENTONVILLE — The Bryant Lady Hornets will get another shot at the Van Buren Lady Pointers at the State Tournament today at 1 p.m.
Last year, the mostly sophomore Bryant team challenged veteran Van Buren team, led by sharp-shooting Jamilyn Kinney and came up on the short end of a 61-32 loss.
It was the first State tournament experience for the Lady Hornets and head coach Brad Matthews said at the time, “There’s a different environment. It’s a different level of discomfort that goes with the State tournament, a different level of intensity and expectations that go with the State tournament. Getting beat is never good but the experience, hopefully, will carry over to the spring and summer and fall of next year.”
And you can definitely make the case that it has. With almost everybody back, the Lady Hornets went 15-10 this season with six of their losses coming against three State powerhouses that just happen to be in their conference, top-ranked Fort Smith Northside, No. 3 Conway and No. 4 North Little Rock. And, along the way, Bryant played those three teams about as close as anybody.
Experience has helped the Lady Hornets, now mostly juniors, but so has the elevated play of seniors Kalia Walker and Robyn Gordon as well as Allison Steen, who sat out her junior year but has returned to bring great defense and rebounding.
In addition, the availability of 6-2 junior McKenzie Muse has been vital after she had to sit almost all of her junior year with a knee injury. She and Gordon (6-1) and Steen (5-10) give Bryant size they just didn’t have much of in 2018.
That means that maybe Van Buren’s Kayleigh Evans, who led her team with 16 points last year, may have a tougher go this time. Kenney has graduated and is playing for Belmont College now. Lexi Miller, who scored 11 off the bench for the Lady Pointers returns, though, and Van Buren can still fill it up from the perimeter.
For Bryant, all-state point guard Tierra Trotter and guard India Atkins and forwards Celena Martin and Ivory Russ have provided exceptional play at times. Atkins is coming off a 17-point performance last Friday against Conway.
Last year, Bryant came into the game with a 11-14 record and Van Buren was 18-10. This year, the Lady Pointers are 15-12 but their victories include a streak-breaking win over Fayetteville.
Bryant’s a five seed after tying for fourth in the Central and losing their last two games to North Little Rock and Conway. Van Buren is a 4 seed and has won five in a row. After the 59-53 win over Fayetteville, they have downed Rogers Heritage, Springdale Har-Ber, Bentonville West and Springdale, the latter two are State tourney teams.
The two teams have three common opponents. Early in the season, Van Buren defeated Mount St. Mary Academy (59-40), Fort Smith Southside (60-33) and Jacksonville (57-45). The Lady Hornets beat Jacksonville early, 58-51 then swept Mount St. Mary Academy (51-19 and 51-38) and Fort Smith Southside (50-26 and 47-19) in conference play.
The winner today will advance to take on Northside on Thursday at 4 p.m. The Lady Hornets lost at Northside 47-42 and at home to the Lady Bears, 50-38.
CLASS 6A STATE TOURNAMENT
At Bentonville West High School
Wednesday, Feb. 27
Game 2 — Van Buren (15-12) (West 4) vs. Bryant (15-10) (Central 5), 1 p.m.
Game 4 — North Little Rock (17-9) (Central 3) vs. Bentonville West (10-16) (West 6), 3 p.m.
Game 6 — Little Rock Central (11-14) (Central 4) vs. Springdale (13-12) (West 5), 5 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 28
Game 8 — Rogers (17-9) (West 3) vs. Cabot (14-11) (Central 6), 1 p.m.
Game 9 — Fort Smith Northside (25-1) (Central 1) vs. game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 10 — Fayetteville (19-4) (West 2) vs. game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Friday, March 1
Game 11 — Bentonville (24-3) (West 1) vs. game 6 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 12 — Conway (26-4) (Central 2) vs. game 8 winner, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 2
Game 13 — Game 9 winner vs. game 10 winner, 12 p.m.
Game 14 — Game 11 winner vs. game 12 winner, 6 p.m.
At Hot Springs
Game 15 — Game 13 winner vs. game 14 winner, TBA