File photo by Rick Nation
FORT SMITH — When the Bryant Lady Hornets hosted the Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears in the 6A-Central Conference opener, they did not go lightly. Northside escaped the Hornets’ Nest with a 55-47 win. It was their closest game on the league season.
Ranked tops in the state and among ranked nationally, the Lady Bears have run roughshod over league teams like Little Rock Central, Mount St. Mary Academy, Cabot and Fort Smith Southside. The top contenders right behind Northside in the conference standings, Conway and North Little Rock, each came up short by 10 points.
To start the second round of the league’s home-and-home schedule, the Lady Hornets once again made the Lady Bears sweat it out. With less than six minutes left in the game, Bryant was down just 5 and had a shot to get closer. In fact, Northside didn’t manage a double-digit lead in the second half until the final two minutes on their way to a 50-38 victory.
The Lady Bears improved to 20-0 on the season including 8-0 versus the Central Conference. The Lady Hornets dropped to 12-7 overall and 3-5 against the league.
Northside out-rebounded Bryant 37-33 including 14 offensive boards. The Lady Bears were also 15 of 22 at the free-throw line while the Lady Hornets, playing mostly a perimeter game — they hit 10 of 27 3-pointers — shot (and made) just two free throws.
“I thought our kids gave tremendous effort,” said Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “Our initial defense was really, really good. Northside’s the best team in the state at offensive rebounds and they did a good job tonight. Our kids fought hard, but they got a few offensive rebounds and that really helped them. But our kids kept fighting and made a run there in the third and fourth quarters.
But, you know, on the road against an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team, we had a shot,” he noted. “I’m proud of our kids’ effort, proud of our team.”
Bryant’s only lead was 3-0 after India Atkins opened the scoring with a 3-pointer. Behind a pair of 3’s by Sara Bershers — all five Lady Bears are 5’10” or taller — Northside surged to a 10-3 lead.
But two free throws by Bryant senior Kalia Walker and a 3 by Celena Martin had Bryant within 10-8 at the first break.
Bershers hit two free throws to start the second quarter then neither team could break through until Walker fed Tierra Trotter with a kick-out pass for a 3 that had Bryant within 12-11. The Lady Hornets’ McKenzie Muse made a steal to give them a chance to regain the upper hand, but Trotter’s triple refused to fall this time.
Northside jumped into a trapping press that, with their length posed a few problems for the Lady Hornets. A 15-2 run resulted, making it 27-13 at the half.
“That middle of the second quarter, again, where they kind of went from a pretty close game — when they started doing that full-court stuff,” Matthews said, recalling that in the previous meeting a late rush at the end of the first half proved crucial. “That should play into how we play. Obviously, I didn’t prepare us good enough for that. That’s on me.
“We’ve got to keep playing hard and keep executing at a high, high level,” he continued. “To beat teams in this league, you’ve got to play hard every possession, but you’ve also got to execute at a level that allows you to be successful. Playing hard is great but it’s not enough at this level. You’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to execute. We’re still a work in progress on that but, overall, it was a really good effort with bits and pieces of really good execution mixed in. We’ve just got to mix in more and more as we keep going.”
The Lady Hornets shot just 28 percent from the field, but they held the Lady Bears to 31 percent.
Northside extended the lead to 30-13 early in the third quarter and it looked like the Lady Hornets might become one of those victims of one-sided losses. But Atkins popped a 3 to spark Bryant.
Northside’s all-everything 6-1 point guard Jersey Wolfenbarger scored but Atkins drained another 3 and Allison Steen added a jumper in the lane to cut the margin to 11 with 3:28 left in the quarter.
Tracey Breshers hit a pair of free throws for Northside only to have Bryant’s McKenzie Muse knock down a 3 and, off a Lady Bears’ turnover, Trotter drove for a basket, scooping her shot past the Northside bigs.
Tiya Douglas hit a free throw but Trotter swished a 3 to make it 35-29 before Northside’s Deairah Mays added a free throw to make it a 7-point game going into the final stanza.
Tracey Breshers scored off the offensive glass, but Walker gunned in a 3. Jazzlyn Coleman countered with a baseline jumper only to have Trotter’s 3 cut it to 40-35.
With all the Northside stars covered, the Lady Hornets conceded a 3-point try to Coleman but, with 5:08 left, she nailed it.
Down 43-35, the Lady Hornets had three chances to cut into the margin only to come up empty. Wolfenbarger’s free throws made it a 10-point game before Walker sank the Lady Hornets’ 10th3. Bryant trailed 45-38 with 3:17 left but did not score again as the Lady Bears finished off the victory.
Wolfenbarger led all scorers with 17 points. Sara Bershers had 11.
For Bryant, Trotter finished with 11, Walker 10 and Atkins 9.
The Lady Hornets return home for their next outing. Tuesday, Feb. 5, they host Mount St. Mary Academy.
LADY BEARS 50, LADY HORNETS 38
Score by quarters
BRYANT 8 5 16 8 — 38
FS Northside 10 17 9 14 — 50
LADY HORNETS (12-7, 3-5) 38
Trotter 4-15 0-0 11, Atkins 3-9 0-0 9, Martin 1-1 0-0 3, Gordon 0-2 0-0 0, Muse 1-7 0-0 3, Steen 1-5 0-0 2, Walker 3-8 2-2 10, Russ 0-0 0-0 0. Totals:13-47 (28%) 2-2 (100%) 38.
LADY BEARS (20-0, 8-0) 50
Wolfenbarger 4-11 8-10 17, Mays 1-5 1-2 3, T.Breshers 1-2 2-2 4, Douglas 3-12 2-4 8, S.Bershers 3-12 2-3 11, Coleman 3-5 0-1 7, Shelly 0-0 0-0 0, West 0-0 0-0 0, Knauls 0-1 0-0 0. Totals:15-48 (31%) 15-22 (68%) 50.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 10-27 (Trotter 3-9, Atkins 3-6, Walker 2-6, Muse 1-5, Martin 1-1), FS Northside 5-13 (S.Bershers 3-6, Wolfenbarger 1-2, Coleman 1-1, Douglas 0-2, T.Bershers 0-1, Knauls 0-1). Turnovers:Bryant 18, FS Northside 11. Rebounds:Bryant 13-20 33 (Steen 5-4 9, Atkins 1-5 6, Muse 2-3 5, Trotter 1-1 2, Martin 0-2 2, Gordon 0-2 2, Walker 0-2 2, team 4-1 5), FS Northside 14-23 37 (T.Bershers 1-8 9, S.Bershers 3-5 8, Wolfenbarger 3-2 5, Coleman 3-1 4, Douglas 1-2 3, Shelly 1-0 1, West 0-1 1, Knauls 0-1 1, team 2-3 5). Team fouls:Bryant 17, FS Northside 12. Technical foul:Bryant, Atkins.