Lady Hornets play Lady Cats close until second-half blitz

CONWAY — With at least two Division I college recruits, the Conway Lady Cats may have the most sheer talent of any high school team in the state. And a second Class 7A State championship would be a surprise to no one.

But, on Tuesday night, they were in a tussle with the Bryant Lady Hornets for a little over a half. A minute into the third quarter, the Lady Cats held a tenuous 35-31 lead.

But, at that point, they launched an 18-2 run that expanded into a 38-9 blitz before it was over. The result was a 74-46 victory that improved Conway to 15-5 on the season and 5-1 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference.

Bryant fell to 10-9 and 2-4 going into Friday’s home game against Siloam Springs.

“There’s a reason they’re the 7A State champion,” said Lady Hornets coach Brad Matthews. “They’re so good offensively. They can go on a 10-0 run before you know what happened.

“We fought and scrapped and clawed,” he noted. “I thought we executed real well in the first half. We were able to get the ball where we wanted. Our kids went and made plays. I thought for about two-and-a-half quarters, we held our own.”

The Lady Cats ran out to an 11-4 lead in the first quarter but, after a timeout, Bryant countered. The Lady Hornets, particularly Jakeria Otey and Lauren Carroll, were attacking Conway’s tough 1-3-1 defense and scoring or getting to the foul line.

Bryant whittled the margin to 16-12 going into the final minute of the quarter but a 3 by Jordan Danberry, who has already committed to the University of Arkansas, and a jump hook at the buzzer by Christin Rogers, extended the lead to 9.

And the Lady Cats pushed the margin to 25-13 early in the second quarter with Alexis Tolefree, a junior who’s being sought by college teams, hitting a 3 and adding a free throw.

A drive to the basket by Otey, who avoided Conway’s 6-2 post Allie Pack, started Bryant on a rally. Carroll hit a jumper in the lane and, after Tolefree scored again, Emily Ridgell drove for a bucket.

Raija Todd added a pair of free throws to trim the margin to 27-21 with 3:55 left. Danberry got those free throws back but Ridgell hit the offensive glass and got back to the line then followed up with a drive to the rack that had the Lady Hornets within 29-25 going into the final two minutes of the half.

Again, however, Danberry led a late push that produced a 35-28 halftime edge despite a three-point play by Otey.

It was a three-point play by Carroll to start the second half that trimmed the margin to 35-31.

Conway proceeded to score the next 9 points before Cayla McDowell hit a layup for the Lady Hornets. Another 9-0 run followed before Ridgell hit a 3.

An 11-0 run put the Lady Cats in complete control, 64-36 early in the fourth quarter.

It was late in the third quarter, with the lead over 20, that Matthews noted to one of the officials that, after fouling 13 times in the first half, Conway had been cited for just three to that point in the second.

“Have they changed that much?” he asked.

After shooting 18 free throws in the first half, Bryant shot seven in the second and six of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.

But, afterwards, Matthews gave Conway the credit.

“The third quarter they forced turnovers and they were able to get out in transition,” said Matthews. “They got more comfortable. They started knocking down shots. We were not able to get out in transition. That was because they were making shots. It’s hard to run when they’re making them.”

Danberry, a 5-8 forward, finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Tolefree, a 5-7 guard, had 14 points. Asia Willard added 11.

For Bryant, Otey scored 13, Carroll 12 and Ridgell 11.

“I think we did a lot of things we can build on tonight,” Matthews concluded. “There’s a couple of things we can still go back and work on. I thought our kids really fought and competed. It was a really gutsy effort by our kids in the first half. That’s something we really need every night.”

LADY CATS 74, LADY HORNETS 46

Score by quarters

BRYANT          12       16       8          10 — 46

Conway          21       14       24       15 — 74

LADY HORNETS (10-9, 2-4) 46

Otey 4-9 5-6 13, Carroll 3-13 6-9 12, Baxter 0-2 1-2 1, Todd 1-4 2-2 5, McDowell 1-2 2-2 4, Ridgell 3-5 4-4 11, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, K.Rogers 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-36 (33%) 20-25 (80%) 46.

LADY CATS (15-5, 5-1) 74

Tolefree 4-12 3-4 14, Willard 3-8 5-5 11, Norment 1-3 0-0 2, Danberry 7-11 2-2 19, Pack 4-7 0-0 8, Lattimore 1-2 1-1 3, C.Rogers 4-4 1-1 9, Lowe 2-7 0-0 4, Banks 1-2 2-2 4, Estes 0-2 0-0 0, Lumley 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 27-61 (44%) 14-15 (93%) 74.

Three-point shooting: Bryant 2-7 (Todd 1-1, Ridgell 1-1, Otey 0-3, Carroll 0-1, Baxter 0-1), Conway 6-21 (Tolefree 3-9, Danberry 3-5, Willard 0-2, Estes 0-2, Lumley 0-2, Norment 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 23, Conway 15. Rebounds: Bryant 7-14 21 (Carroll 1-4 5, McDowell 1-4 5, Otey 0-2 2, Baxter 0-1 1, Ridgell 1-0 1, Miller 0-1 1, team 4-2 6), Conway 19-20 39 (Danberry 1-11 12, Willard 5-3 8, Lowe 5-0 5, Banks 2-1 3, Lattimore 1-1 2, C.Rogers 1-1 2, Tolefree 0-1 1, Pack 1-0 1, Estes 1-0 1, team 2-2 4). Team fouls: Bryant 13, Conway 20.

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