File photos by Kevin Nagle and Paul Dotson
CONWAY — The Conway Lady Cats had more wins (25) than any other team in Class 6A going into Friday night’s regular-season finale. And among those was a 73-34 romp at Bryant on Jan. 25.
But much as they did against North Little Rock on Tuesday, the Bryant Lady Hornets responded to a previous one-sided contest with a splendid performance in which they had a chance to win right down to the wire, making Conway extract a 77-68 victory for their 26thwin.
The Lady Cats were already solidly the number 2 seed from the 6A-Central Conference to the 6A State tournament at Bentonville West next week. Bryant, hoping to hang onto a 4 seed, dropped to number 5 from the Central.
The Lady Hornets will thus play in the very first game of the tourney on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 1 p.m., against former conference rival Van Buren, the 4 seed from the West.
To say Bryant had Conway, um, concerned may be an understatement. With 2:55 left in the third quarter, the Lady Hornets held a 48-40 lead on Kalia Walker’s fifth 3-pointer of the game.
Though, repeatedly, to that point, Bryant had held off Conway surges all game long, the Lady Cats’ response at that moment, however, turned the tables.
Conway went on a 13-0 run that included a trio of old-fashioned three-point plays, twice by Jaiden Thomas and once by Jadah Pickens.
The Lady Cats had surged to a 53-48 lead before Tierra Trotter beat the buzzer with an offensive-rebound basket.
That made it a 3-point game going into the final quarter. The teams traded points before Conway pushed the margin to 67-57 with 3:38 still to go.
Three free throws by McKenzie Muse, a 3-pointer by India Atkins and a pair of free throws by Walker allowed the Lady Hornets to whittle the margin back to 3.
Baskets by Pickens and Kyja Chatman extended the margin before Atkins scored again to make it 71-66.
The Lady Cats spread the floor on offense and paraded to the free-throw line three times for six shots that all went down.
“We played with a lot of purpose tonight,” acknowledged Lady Hornets coach Brad Matthews. “I was really proud of our kids’ effort, our fight. We were really aggressive on both ends.
“Our kids made plays for about three-and-a-half quarters,” he continued. “We had that one stretch where we had some turnovers and allowed them to get out in transition. That was really the game.
“Other than that, we played the number two, number three ranked team in the state all the way, tip to buzzer,” the coach concluded. “We’d like to win, obviously, North Little Rock on Tuesday and tonight, but if we can play like this next week, hopefully we’ll be in Bentonville for a little while.”
Walker finished with a game-high 24 points. Atkins added 11, Trotter 9.
Thomas, a freshman, led Conway with 23 points and nine rebounds. Myia Yelder added 18 points and nine boards with Reagan Roetzel scoring 14 and Jadah Pickens 12.
In the game earlier in the year, Conway had nailed a whopping 18 3-pointers. This time, they made just seven while the Lady Hornets were knocking down nine.
The game seesawed from much of the first half. Walker got the Lady Hornets going with her first pair of treys. In a flurry, Atkins made one of her seven steals in the game. That led to a layup. Walker swiped the ball and hit a layup to make it 10-4.
Conway, sparked by a 3-pointer from Roetzel, rallied to take an 18-14 lead before Walker beat the buzzer with another 3, with Trotter getting an assist.
With the Lady Hornets up 22-21 after a driving jumper by Trotter, Thomas made a steal and a layup and, after a Bryant miss, threw in a 3.
But an offensive rebound basket by Celena Martin, a steal by Allison Steen that went for a lapup and the Lady Hornets had pulled even at 26.
During a timeout, Muse came to the sideline for a tape-job on her shoe. Her Nike had split Zion-Williams-style. Though it had to be taped up again before the second half, she got through the game.
Pickens drove for a layup to snap the tie, but the Lady Hornets followed up with another spree. Walker missed a 3 but Martin grabbed the offensive rebound and fed Atkins for a triple that gave Bryant a 29-28 lead.
She would add a free throw after making a steal but Yelder drove for a basket to tie it at 30.
Walker hit a pull-up jumper to put the Lady Hornets back on top. Atkins made a steal and a layup then made another to push the advantage to 36-30.
Yelder hit a 12-foot jumper. Atkins made a steal, but the Lady Hornets turned the ball back over. Atkins took a charge to get the ball back for Bryant. This time, Walker cashed in from 12-feet out.
To end the quarter, Yelder sank a pair of free throws. Bryant led 38-34.
Walker started the scoring in the second half and, despite 3’s from Roetzel and Jenna McMillan, the Lady Hornets hung around.
On a drive by Thomas for a basket at 3:38 left to play. Down 10, the Lady Hornets whittled. McKenzie Muse was hit as she attempted a 3 so she went to the line and coolly sank all three free throws.
Atkins hit a 3-pointer then Steen and Walker combined to force a turnover. With 2:38 left, the Lady Hornets had trimmed the margin back to 3, 67-64.
After Pickens scored, the Lady Cats forced a turnover and took a timeout. When play resumed, they spread the floor on offense, making Bryant chase and foul. Kyja Chatman and Atkins traded baskets.
With 1:25 to go, the free-throw parade commenced. Yelder hit four and Thomas two more as the Lady Cats put it to rest.
LADY CATS 77, LADY HORNETS 68
Score by quarters
BRYANT 17 21 12 18 — 68
Conway 18 16 19 24 — 77
LADY HORNETS (15-10, 6-8) 68
Trotter 4-10 0-0 9, Atkins 7-13 1-3 17, Walker 9-21 1-2 24, Gordon 3-6 0-0 6, Muse 1-5 3-3 6, Steen 1-3 2-2 4, Martin 1-3 0-0 2, Russ 0-2 0-0 0. Totals:26-64 (41%) 7-10 (70%) 68.
LADY CATS (26-4, 12-2) 77
Roetzel 5-12 0-0 14, Pickens 5-8 2-3 12, Yelder 5-13 8-12 18, Thomas 8-11 6-6 23, Chatman 2-4 0-0 4, McMillen 1-2 0-0 3, York 1-3 0-0 3, Summerville 0-0 0-0 0. Totals:27-53 (51%) 16-19 (84%) 77.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 9-32 (Walker 5-13, Atkins 2-6, Trotter 1-5, Muse 1-5, Martin 0-2, Steen 0-1), Conway 7-25 (Roetzel 4-11, Thomas 1-3, York 1-3, McMillen 1-2, Yelder 0-6). Turnovers:Bryant 21, Conway 20. Rebounds: Bryant 13-18 31 (Walker 1-7 8, Muse 3-3 6, Trotter 1-2 3, Gordon 1-2 3, Steen 2-1 3, Martin 1-2 3, Atkins 1-0 1, Russ 1-0 1, team 2-1 3), Conway 9-24 33 (Yelder 1-8 9, Thomas 3-6 9, Pickens 1-3 4, Chatman 1-3 4, Roetzel 0-2 2, York 2-0 2, McMIllen 0-1 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls:Bryant 13, Conway 8.