Photos by Kevin Nagle
They weren’t the 2014 Class 7A State champions for nothing. And with key players back — and the fact they don’t have to play Greenwood — the Conway Lady Cats could definitely repeat this year.
The 2015 State Tournament is scheduled to begin this Wednesday, March 4 (weather permitting) at Springdale Har-Ber High School.
When Bryant’s Lady Hornets first met the Lady Cats this season, at Conway on Jan. 27, it was close for just over a half. It ended up being a 74-46 win for the Lady Cats. In the rematch on Saturday in the final regular-season game for both squads, the Lady Cats got things rolling early and scored a whopping 41 points in the first half and went on to a 72-50 victory over Bryant.
Conway, 21-6 overall including a pair of losses to Class 6A Greenwood, will be the top seed from the Central Conference at State, earning a first-round bye. Bryant, 14-12, is a 3 seed and will debut at 1 p.m., on Thursday, against the Bentonville Lady Tigers.
Saturday’s game was Senior Night for the Lady Hornets as Jakeria Otey, Lauren Carroll, Maddie Baxter and Cayla McDowell were honored. Otey finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. Carroll added 11 points and freshman Raija Todd added 13.
It was also Senior Night, in a way, for Conway. The Lady Cats’ senior night was snowed out on Friday when they were set to play their home finale against Alma. So Conway coach Ashley Nance started five seniors including a couple of reserves. A sixth senior, Jordan Danberry, didn’t start but normally does and leads the team in scoring.
She came in later and wound up with 13 points and six rebounds. Kianna Speight also had 13 points, Asia Willard 12 and Alexis Tolefree 11. Ten of the 11 players that got into the game for the Lady Cats contributed to the scoring.
But it was just as much Conway’s 1-3-1 trapping defense that made the difference. The Lady Cats forced 22 Bryant turnovers.
“We knew coming in that their transition offense was really good,” said Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “We knew that in order to compete against such a talented team as Conway, your transition defense has to be at its best, your rebounding has to be at its best, and you’ve got to be able to score the ball because Conway is so talented on offense. Even on a down night, they’re going to get 60, 65 points.
“In spurts, we did some decently good things tonight,” he added, “but Conway, possession in and possession out, is really a tough handle. Our kids competed hard. We just didn’t have the night in those three areas that we needed to. Conway just makes you pay every time you don’t do one of those things.”
Despite starting their stars, Danberry and Tolefree on the bench, Conway surged to a 5-0 lead. When the starters entered, that ballooned to 9-0 before Otey hit a short jumper to break the ice for Bryant.
But it was 13-2 before the Lady Hornets scored again. Todd drove for a layup then Otey followed with a steal and a three-point play that pinched the margin to 4. Speight hit a 3 but Otey answered with a pair of free throws to make it 16-9 at the first break.
Carroll hit two free throws to make it a 5-point game in the early moments of the second period but then the Lady Cats’ went on a 25-point spree.
Still, the Lady Hornets were within 24-17 with just over five minutes to play in the half. It was 27-19 at the 4:17 mark as Bryant hit free throws to stay in contact. They didn’t get another field goal until Emily Ridgell drove for a basket with 2:05 left. By that time, Danberry hit a three, Tolefree converted three free throws before adding a driving jumper. Willard hit a layup with 2:21 left in the quarter, which had Conway ahead 37-20.
It was 41-26 at the half and the Lady Cats opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run that produced the first 20-plus-point lead.
Conway led 58-36 going into the fourth quarter and eventually led by as much as 26.
At the end, Matthews subbed in for each of his four seniors amid cheers from their fans and classmates.
LADY CATS 72, LADY HORNETS 50
Score by quarters
Conway 16 25 17 14 — 72
BRYANT 9 17 10 14 — 50
LADY CATS (21-6, 11-2, 6-0) 72
Speight 5-9 1-2 13, Willard 3-6 6-6 12, Norment 1-3 0-2 2, C.Rogers 1-1 0-0 2, Pack 3-4 0-0 6, Tolefree 4-7 3-6 11, Danberry 6-7 0-0 13, Lowe 1-5 0-0 2, Banks 0-1 5-6 5, Estes 2-6 2-2 6, Lattimore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-48 (54%) 17-23 (74%) 72.
LADY HORNETS (14-12, 6-7, 2-4) 50
Otey 6-16 10-11 22, Carroll 4-10 3-4 11, Baxter 0-3 1-3 1, Todd 5-10 2-2 13, McDowell 0-1 0-0 0, Miller 0-2 0-2 0, Ridgell 1-4 1-2 3, K.Rogers 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-46 (35%) 17-24 (71%) 50.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 1-10 (Todd 1-4, Otey 0-5, Carroll 0-1), Conway 3-12 (Speight 2-3, Danberry 1-2, Estes 0-3, Tolefree 0-2, Norment 0-1, Willard 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 22, Conway 15. Rebounds: Bryant 13-17 30 (Otey 2-6 8, Carroll 2-3 5, Ridgell 2-3 5, Miller 1-2 3, Baxter 2-0 2, Todd 0-1 1, McDowell 1-0 1, K.Rogers 1-0 1, Martin 1-0 1). Team fouls: Bryant 15, Conway 16.