BENTONVILLE — As was the case on Wednesday, when the Bryant Lady Hornets put together a big second half to overwhelm the Van Buren Lady Pointers, the Lady Hornets found themselves trailing at halftime in Thursday’s quarterfinal game of the 6A State Tournament at Wolverine Arena at Bentonville West High School.
And, again, they rallied in the third quarter.
But, instead of being down 4 like they were against Van Buren at the half, Bryant was trailing by 17 at the intermission to the No. 1-ranked Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears.
The Lady Hornets whittled that margin down to 9 three times in the second half and had opportunities to get closer but never could. Northside, hitting 11 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter, advanced to the State semifinals against Fayetteville, with a 55-37 win.
Bryant’s season comes to an end with a 16-11 record.
“We just dug ourselves too big a hole,” said Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “Like I said yesterday, every game we make runs. Today, we made a run. We forced some turnovers against a super-talented team and our kids continued to fight.
“In the third quarter, we got it 9 a few times, with the ball; had a chance, had momentum but it was just too big of a hole to fight all the way back from,” he reiterated. “If we’re 6 or 8 down and we make the run, we’re ahead.”
It was the third loss of the season for Bryant against the 26-1 Lady Bears, but all three have been competitive. The Lady Hornets trailed 44-35 with 6:26 left in the game then added just 2 points the rest of the way as Northside blew it up.
In previous games, the Lady Hornets actually led before falling back. Northside survived Bryant 47-42 at home then pulled away a bit at the Hornets’ Nest, finishing with a 50-38 win.
“Northside is so long and so athletic,” Matthews noted. “They make it very difficult to get clean looks. We struggled with that early. Defensively, we had some breakdowns, left their shooters open.
“We’ve played them three times now and all three times, every game, we’ve had runs,” he acknowledged. “I think that’s who we are.”
Asked about how his team had competed so well against Northside, Matthews added, “I thought, in the third quarter, we created some energy, got some deflections. Our ability to score in a spurt — because I think they like to play very traditional. They’re so good in the half court, so big and they shoot it so well. I think that’s, by far, their strength.
“When we’re able to go up and down with them is when we’ve had our runs,” he explained. “I think that kind of contrasting what we want to do versus what they’re — they’re really good at everything but what they’re really good at is if you go half-court to half-court with them.”
It was a step forward this season for the Lady Hornets. As a predominantly sophomore team in 2018, they reached State but lost in the first round. This time, with mostly juniors, they won a game. Matthews expects to take further steps next year.
“Absolutely,” he asserted. “Each year, after the season, we look back and we say, ‘Okay, what did we do well? Let’s continue to improve that. But more importantly, what are some areas we have to shore up to play against the best?’ If we’re going to be successful in our league, we’ve got to beat the best because the best is in our league. I think it’s evident by this State tournament.”
The Central Conference teams won all three of Wednesday’s games. Only sixth-seeded Cabot failed in their first game of the tourney. The Lady Panthers fell to Rogers 48-40 on Thursday.
“Last year, we really focused spring and summer on shooting,” Matthews recalled. “I think our shooting percentages have gone up. So that’s still something we’ve got to go back and work on.
“We lose three really key seniors, quality, quality kids and we’ll miss them,” He asserted, “but we’ve got to have some kids step up and that’s start here in a few weeks.”
The Lady Hornets’ seniors are Kalia Walker, Allison Steen and Robyn Gordon. Walker led the Lady Hornets with 15 points after scoring 34 on Wednesday. She missed her first five 3-point tries but wound up with three of them along the way.
Tierra Trotter added 8, India Atkins and Celena Martin scored 4 each.
Northside was led by 6-2 sophomore guard Jersey Wolfenbarger with 16 points. Senior Sara Bershers also had 16. Tracey Douglas sored 12 and Tracey Bershers had 12 rebounds to go with her 6 points. Northside used its size advantage to out-rebound the Lady Hornets 43-24.
The Lady Bears opened the game with a 16-2 rush. That included an 11-point run.
In the final 30 seconds of the first quarter, Trotter drove for a layup and, off a Northside turnover, Martin drove for a bucket to make it 16-6 going into the second period.
The Lady Bears hit seven of their eight 3-pointers in the first half including four in the second quarter as they expanded the lead. Sara Bershers opened the second half with a 3 but then the Lady Hornets deployed in a trapping, three-quarter court press.
Trotter made a steal and a layup then Atkins made a steal and layup. Trotter added a 15-foot jumper and the lead was 14.
After Northside’s Deairah Mays missed two free throws, Walker popped a 3. Walker scored off a drive to the rack and, with 4:00 left in the third quarter, Bryant was within 37-28.
At the other end, Walker took a charge as Wolfenbarger picked up her fourth foul. Bryant was unable to cash that in and proceeded to miss twice more before Jazzlyn Coleman hit a free throw for Northside. Douglas rebounded a second miss, but the Lady Bears turned the ball over.
The teams traded turnovers before, with 24.7 to go in. the third, Steen was fouled. Her free throw made it 38-29.
Bryant’s McKenzie Muse blocked a shot by Coleman, but it somehow wound up the hands of Tracey Breshers who scored to make it 40-29 going into the fourth quarter.
Douglas hit a 15-foot jumper, but Muse canned a 3 to cut the difference to 42-32. Bershers hit two free throws with 7:06 to play.
Bryant didn’t score initially but Steen took a charge on a drive by Bershers to give the Lady Hornets another shot at it. With 6:26 left, Walker hit a 3 to trim it to 44-35. Wolfenbarger misfired and Martin rebounded. But she got tangled up in the traffic, resulting in a turnover.
Northside padded the lead with an 11-2 surge to end the game.
LADY BEARS 55, LADY HORNETS 37
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 11 12 8 — 37
FS Northside 16 18 6 15 — 55
LADY HORNETS (16-11) 37
Trotter 4-12 0-1 8, Atkins 2-8 0-0 4, Gordon 1-2 0-0 2, Walker 5-16 2-2 15, Muse 1-7 0-0 3, Steen 0-2 1-2 1, Martin 2-2 0-0 4, Russ 0-1 0-0 0. Totals:15-50 (30%) 3-5 (60%) 37.
LADY BEARS (26-1) 55
Wolfenbarger 4-13 5-8 16, Mays 1-3 0-2 2, T.Bershers 2-6 1-2 6, Douglas5-9 2-5 12, S.Bershers 4-7 4-4 16, Coleman 1-4 1-2 3, West 0-0 0-0 0, Shelly 0-0 0-0 0, Tillery 0-0 0-0 0, Ford 0-0 0-0 0, Flemming 0-0 0-0 0. Totals:17-42 (40%) 13-23 (57%) 55.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 4-23 (Walker 3-12, Muse 1-3, Trotter 0-4, Atkins 0-4), FS Northside 8-19 (S.Bershers 4-6, Wolfenbarger 3-7, T.Bershers 1-4, Douglas 0-1, Colman 0-1). Turnovers:Bryant 7, FS Northside 13. Rebounds:Bryant 5-19 24 (Muse 1-5 6, Steen 1-3 4, Trotter 0-3 3, Atkins 1-2 3, Gordon 0-2 2, Walker 0-2 2, Martin 1-1 2, team 1-1 2), FS Northside 11-32 43 (T.Bershers 1-11 12, Douglas 2-4 6, S.Bershers 0-6 6, Coleman 3-2 5, Mays 1-3 4, Wolfenbarger 1-0 1, West 1-0 1, team 2-6 8). Team fouls:Bryant 19, FS Northside 14.