For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here
After defeating 6A-Central Conference rivals Cabot and North Little Rock at home earlier this season, the Bryant Lady Hornets made a bid to add the Conway Lady Wampus Cats to their list on Friday night at Hornet Arena.
With 2:23 left in their Senior Night battle, they were trailing just 66-62. At the 2:17 mark, Conway’s Jadah Pickens hit a free throw to make it a 5-point difference. Both teams had opportunities to change that score and both failed until, with 1:33 left, Conway post-player Haylee Malcolm stepped outside and launched what figured to be a gift to the Lady Hornets, her first 3-point attempt.
But Malcolm’s shot went in to extend the lead to 8 and the Lady Hornets never quite recovered. Bryant’s McKenzie Muse converted a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left and Conway turned the ball over. That made it a two-possession game, 70-64.
After a timeout with :33.4 remaining, Conway turned the ball over again. Tierra Trotter cut loose with a 3 but it was blocked as she was knocked to the floor. There was no call.
With :11.5 to go, Pickens converted two more free throws to sew up a 72-64 victory.
The result landed Conway the number 2 seed from the 6A-Central Conference to next week’s 6A State tournament to be held in Hornet Arena. The Lady Hornets tied for fourth but will be a 5 seed for State. They’ll play on Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m., against the Rogers Lady Mounties in the first round.
Pickens finished with 24 points to go with 20 by Malcolm and 14 from Chloe Clardy Friday night. Trotter had 20 for Bryant. Lexie Taylor came off the bench to hit a trio of 3’s and score 11 points. Celena Martin had 9, McKenzie Muse 8.
But Conway out-rebounded Bryant 41-29 with 20 of those boards 41 coming on the offensive end.
“That was the difference,” acknowledged Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews. “When you’re trying to beat a really talented team, not everything’s going to be perfect. I thought we had some offensive possessions that were really sloppy. But, you know, you look up midway through the fourth quarter and we’ve got a chance to beat a really good team here.
“The difference was the boards,” he reiterated. “They got some putbacks and I thought they owned the paint in the second half. We never really got in rhythm on offense but, even then, we had a chance.
“It’s the first time we’ve really been dominated on the boards like that,” the coach noted. “Everybody in our league is so big. You have to fight every time and you have to compete every time. It’s easy to get caught up watching the ball as opposed to going to attack it. That’s what we did in the fourth quarter.”
It helped offset some of that advantage that the Lady Hornets forced Conway into 18 turnovers.
“That’s really when we’re playing our best is when we’re creating turnovers and getting out in transition,” Matthews said. “Tierra played really well in the first half. McKenzie’s down there fighting every game.”
Muse finished with seven rebounds, but Conway’s freshman Chloe Clardy had nine.
Conway built a lead of as much as 12 in the first quarter. It was 18-6 with 2:40 left in the period. But Trotter knocked down a 3 and, moments later, Muse fed Parris Atkins for a layup to make it 18-11 going into the second period.
And when Trotter scored off a steal and Taylor followed with a 3, the margin was down to 2 points. Conway pushed it back to 25-18 before Bryant made a push to take the lead.
Muse popped another 3 and Trotter added two free throws. Conway turned the ball over, and Lady Cats’ head coach Ashley Hutchcraft called a timeout. But Trotter drove for a layup to give the Lady Hornets the lead then India Atkins got loose for a layup to make it 27-24.
Clardy tied it with a 3 but Trotter fed McKeycia Baker for a layup and, off a Conway miscue, Taylor took a kickout from Trotter and buried a 3 to give the Lady Hornets a 32-27 lead, their biggest advantage of the game.
Before the half was through, however, Clardy and Kalayna King scored in a flourish to cut that margin to 1 at the half.
The fired-up Lady Cats opened the second half with a surge building a lead of as much as 51-38. With 1:03 left in the third quarter, however, Trotter drained a triple and Parris Atkins drove for a layup. It was 53-43 going into the final period.
Parris Atkins made a steal and a layup to start the final stanza but, moments later, she picked up her fourth foul and had to come out of the game for a while.
Two free throws by Malcolm and a three-point play from Pickens gave Conway a 57-45 lead.
But the Lady Hornets would not go away. Muse and Martin hit back-to-back 3’s and, after Pickens hit two free throws, Taylor bombed in another, trimming the margin to 59-54.
A 3 by Pickens was answered by a layup from Martin off a dish by Muse. Ivory Russ added a free throw and, after a stickback by King, Martin hit a free throw.
Martin and Trotter combined on a steal that led to a layup by Trotter that had the Lady Hornets down just 4, 64-60 with 2:56 left in the game.
The teams traded points. Malcolm was countered by Taylor, who went to the line to make it 64-60. Over the final two minutes of the game, the Lady Hornets were limited to the two free throws by Muse.
LADY CATS 72, LADY HORNETS 64
Score by quarters
Conway 18 13 22 19 — 72
BRYANT 11 21 11 21 — 64
LADY CATS (21-7, 10-4) 72
York 0-8 3-5 3, Pickens 6-14 9-11 24, Clardy 5-19 2-2 14, Rector 1-8 0-1 3, Malcolm 9-11 1-2 20, Jolivette 0-0 0-0 0, King 4-6 0-0 8. Totals 25-66 (38%) 15-21 (71%) 72.
LADY HORNETS (16-10, 8-6) 64
Trotter 7-15 3-4 20, I.Atkins 2-3 0-0 5, Scifres 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 3-4 2-4 9, Muse 2-6 2-2 8, P.Atkins 3-7 0-0 6, Russ 1-5 1-2 3, Taylor 3-8 2-3 11, Baker 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-49 (43%) 10-13 (77%) 64.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 9-22 (Trotter 3-8, Taylor 3-7, Muse 2-4, I.Atkins 1-2, Martin 1-1), Conway 7-29 (Pickens 3-6, Clardy 2-6, Rector 1-8, Malcolm 1-1, York 0-8). Turnovers: Bryant 21, Conway 18. Rebounds: Bryant 8-21 29 (Muse 1-6 7, Trotter 0-6 6, I.Atkins 2-2 4, Martin 2-2 4, P.Atkins 1-1 2, Russ 0-2 2, Baker 0-1 1, team 2-1 3), Conway 20-21 41 (Clardy 6-3 9, King 5-3 8, Malcolm 2-4 6, Pickens 4-1 5, Rector 0-5 5, York 3-1 4, team 0-4 4). Team fouls: Bryant 17, Conway 13. Fouled out: Bryant, P.Atkins.