For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here
Prior to Friday night, the unbeaten, top-ranked Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears had had just two games in which they won by less than double digits in 12 contests. In the championship game of the Tournament of Champions in Tulsa on Dec. 7, they escaped Moore, Okla., 57-53. A week later, they downed the Bentonville Lady Tigers 56-47.
Most of their other wins have been by 20, 30, 40 points against out-of-state teams.
But, when they took on the Bryant Lady Hornets on Friday night in the 6A-Central Conference opener for both teams, the Lady Bears needed six free throws in the last 50 seconds by -6’2” sophomore point guard Jersey Wolfenbarger to escape with a 55-47 victory.
With :41 to go when Bryant senior Kalia Walker hit her fifth 3-pointer of the game, the Lady Hornets trailed just 51-47. That was after the Lady Bears has built a 17-point lead late in the third quarter.
“Against really good teams, number one is you’ve got to compete every possession,” said Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews. “And we did that tonight. We competed hard every possession. That’s where you’ve got to start, really any game, but especially against really talented teams.
“And I thought for about 70, 80 percent of the game, we executed well on both ends,” he added. “Against really good teams, when you have those little breakdowns in execution, they make you pay. Defensively, we gave up some 3’s on some breakdowns. Then, offensively, we did really well for about 70, 80 percent of the game then we missed a couple of shots, forced a couple of shots.
“But, overall, tremendous intensity,” the coach asserted.
Walker led the Lady Hornets with 19 points. Tierra Trotter added 10.
Wolfenbarger paced Northside with 21 points including 10 of 12 at the free throw line. Bryant, as a team, was just 3 of 8 at the stripe. The Lady Bears wound up shooting 16 of 21 from the stripe.
That was the difference because the Lady Hornets rebounded with the Lady Bears, who started five girls between 5’10 and 6’1”. Bryant actually claimed 16 offensive boards. The Lady Hornets had 17 turnover; Northside 15.
“Against Northside, you have to rebound because they’re so big and so long,” Matthews noted. “They’re able to dominate the boards. We competed on the boards really well.”
Senior Allison Steen had 10 boards and blocked four shots.
“There was a lot of good stuff,” Matthews acknowledged. “It’s just we had two periods in the game where we went dry, dry on offense and that led to some defensive breakdowns.”
One of those came at the end of the first half when, with the Lady Hornets actually leading 20-17, the Lady Bears were able to close out the half on a 16-3 tear that made it 33-23 at the half.
The other came at the start of the second half when a 8-1 surge produced the 17-point advantage.
Walker started Bryant’s comeback, hitting a trio of 3’s in the final 2:40 of the third quarter. She also fed Trotter for a layup as part of the 11-0 push. With :06 left, Northside’s Avery Shelly scored on a baseline jumper to make it 43-35 going into the fourth period.
McKenzie Muse, who fought through despite missing her first eight shots in the game, got the Lady Hornets going in the final period with a pair of 3’s. After her second, the Northside lead was just 44-41 with 3:58 left to play.
After a swap of free throws, the lead was 46-42 when Tracey Bershers, who had 14 in the game, hit a 3 to push the lead to 7 but a steal and layup by India Atkins had it down to 49-44 with a minute left to play.
Wolfenbarger hit two free throws with :49.2 left but Walker kept the Lady Hornets in it with her last 3 making it a 4-point game again. In the final 30 seconds, Wolfenbarger added four more free throws to set the final score.
“We’ve got to continue to build,” Matthews said. “I’m really proud of our effort, really proud of the fact that we competed. We’ve just got to build on execution.”
Bryant led much of the first quarter with Robyn Gordon and Trotter hitting 3’s then Atkins, working a tremendous give-and-go with Celena Martin hit a layup and was fouled. Though she missed the free throw, the Lady Hornets were up 10-8.
Northside rallied to take a 15-10 lead before Walker hit a 15-footer then scored on a reverse layup off an inbounds play to make it a one-point game going into the second period.
A free throw by Ivory Russ tied it then Walker put the Lady Hornets ahead with her first triple. She and Muse combined for force a turnover, but Bryant gave it back up.
Wolfenbarger hit a pair at the line and Atkins scored off another nice feed from Martin to make it 20-17.
Northside scored the next 14 points before Trotter broke the dry spell for Bryant with a 3 in the final minute of the half.
The loss dropped the Lady Hornets to 9-3 overall and 0-1 in conference play but, if the Lady Hornets can play with Northside, they can compete with anybody in the state.
“Absolutely,” Matthews agreed. “And that’s the thing we’ve got to get better at, carrying that over. We’ve got to make sure we take this to Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday. Mount St. Mary’s is one of the hardest places to play in the state. If we think we’re just going to show up, we’ll have more than our hands full. We’ve got to keep maturing basketball-wise to make sure we give that great effort and great execution every time out.”
That game will be played on Tuesday.
LADY BEARS 55, LADY HORNETS 47
Score by quarters
FS Northside 15 18 10 12 — 55
BRYANT 14 9 12 12 — 47
LADY BEARS (13-0, 1-0) 55
Wolfenbarger 4-10 10-12 21, Mays 0-1 0-0 0, T.Bershers5-11 0-0 14, Douglas 3-7 3-5 9, S.Bershers 2-8 1-2 5, Shelly 1-1 0-0 2, Coleman 1-3 2-2 4, West 0-0 0-0 0. Totals16-41 (39%) 16-21 (76%) 55.
LADY HORNETS (9-3, 0-1) 47
Trotter 4-11 0-1 10, Atkins 3-9 0-1 6, Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Gordon 1-2 0-0 3, Muse 2-13 0-0 6, Russ 0-3 2-4 2, Steen 0-5 1-2 1, Walker 7-10 0-0 19, L.Taylor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals17-54 (31%) 3-8 (38%) 47.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 10-26 (Walker 5-7, Muse 2-9, Trotter 2-8, Gordon 1-1, Atkins 0-1), FS Northside 7-18 (T.Bershers 4-7, Wolfenbarger 3-9, S.Bershers 0-2). Turnovers:Bryant 17, FS Northsidee 15.Rebounds:Bryant 16-14 30 (Steen 6-4 10, Russ 2-2 4, Gordon 1-2 3, Trotter 1-1 2, Atkins 1-1 2, Muse 1-1 2, Martin 1-0 1, Walker 0-1 1, team 3-2 5), FS Northside 9-21 30 (S.Bershers 1-8, Coleman 2-4 6, Douglas 1-2 3, Wolfenbarger 1-1 2, Mays 1-1 2, T.Bershers 1-0 1, team 2-5 7). Team fouls:Bryant 12, FS Northside 13. Fouled out: FS Northside, S.Bershers.