BENTONVILLE – With three minutes left in the first half, the Bryant Lady Hornets appeared to be in some trouble. Van Buren’s Lexi Miller hit a 3 to give the Lady Pointers a 19-12 lead.
Thoughts of last year’s lopsided loss to Van Buren in the first round of the State tournament began to creep in.
The Lady Hornets needed a big shot and, off a feed from junior India Atkins, they got it from senior Kalia Walker. It was her second 3-pointer of the game and it sparked a 6-3 spurt to end the first half, which ballooned into a 23-5 blitz as Bryant opened the third quarter with a 17-2 charge that put the game on its head.
Scrambling defensively and forcing Van Buren into 10 turnovers in the third quarter, Bryant created some havoc, some panic in the Lady Pointers. Walker wound up hitting six 3’s in the game, finishing with a career-high 34 points as the Lady Hornets ran off with a 54-34 romp to advance at the State tourney at Wolverine Arena on the campus of Bentonville West High School.
Improving to 16-10 on the season, the Lady Hornets draw top-ranked Fort Smith Northside on Thursday at 4 p.m. Despite Northside’s lofty standing, Bryant doesn’t figure to be intimidated at the least. They played the Lady Bears as tough as just about anyone in the 6A-Central Conference, including a 47-42 setback in Fort Smith.
Wednesday’s victory for the Lady Hornets was part of a three-game sweep in the first round by Central teams. North Little Rock dismissed Bentonville West, 69-40, and Little Rock Central upset Springdale in overtime, 43-36.
Besides Northside-Bryant, Thursday’s girls games will include Cabot’s debut against Rogers and North Little Rock challenging Fayetteville.
“It was kind of sloppy in the first half,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Brad Matthews. “Stuff we prepared for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and today in walk-through, but we were just sloppy. Our kids were a little nervous, a little anxious. We were lucky to just be down 4 at the half, I thought.”
Even after that late push for Bryant in the first half, Van Buren led 22-18. The Lady Pointers had opened the game with a 9-2 blitz.
To open the third quarter, Tierra Trotter banked in a 3 and it fired up the Lady Hornets. Off a turnover, Walker drilled another one and, all of a sudden, Bryant was ahead for the first time in the game, 24-22.
“We hit a 3 to start, hit another 3 and we were off,” observed Matthews. “When we play well, it’s when we’re creating some transition opportunities and playing in flow. It’s been the case all year. Today was no different.
“There’s probably been only three or four games all year where we haven’t had a spurt,” he noted. “Today, we had that spurt. When we can get out in transition, create some turnovers, get some long rebounds – however, we get out, that’s really when our kids play the best. It loosens them up.”
Bryant used a scrambling defense in which they trapped out of a match-up zone. At times, the Lady Hornets extended the defense into the back court. They scrambled and hustled, just trying to create some havoc.
It resulted in 10 turnovers in the third quarter, 19 for the game. Bryant also got the better of it on the boards, 34-25, led by Trotter and Allison Steen with seven each.
“We were down 4,” Matthews said when asked what he told the team at halftime. “We just had to execute better. We talk all the time about playing really hard and executing at a high level. Execution doesn’t always mean in the half-court.
“In the third quarter, that angst turned into excitement,” he mentioned. “There wasn’t that hesitation. First half, we were a step slow everywhere we were going. Second half, we were able to get so many more deflections and so many more steals. I thought that was really the difference.
“We knew we had to play fast because (Van Buren head coach) Chris (Bryant) is one of the best coaches in the state,” the Bryant coach said. “They’re very difficult to beat. I don’t care who you are. If you go half-court to half-court with Chris – his kids are going to be well-prepared and they’re going to execute at a very high level.
“That’s what you saw in the first half,” Matthews related, “but, in the second half, we were able to kind of do what we do and play well.”
Walker scored 13 points during the 26-point outburst by Bryant in the third quarter. She hit a trio of 3’s while Trotter hit a pair including a buzzer-beater that had the Lady Hornets ahead 44-29.
Walker canned two more triples in the fourth quarter, part of a 10-point period for her.
“Kalia’s been playing really well the last couple of weeks,” Matthews acknowledged. “She’s had 20-plus for three or four games in a row, played awesome the other night at Conway when we were ahead a lot of that game and just fell at the end.”
Known for their 3-point shooting, the Lady Pointers managed just four in the game, one after halftime, when Bryant held them to 13 points total. Rylee Ryan finished with a team-hit 10 points including three of the four 3’s.
After building the 9-2 lead off the bat, Van Buren settled for a 13-6 edge at the first break. Despite Walker’s first triple, the Lady Pointers pushed the lead to 19-12.
After Walker’s second trey, Trotter made a steal and a layup, and Van Buren took a timeout with 1:02 left in the half. The Lady Pointers’ Mikelle Porter and Bryant’s Ivory Russ traded free throws.
After the 3’s that Trotter and Walker hit to start the second half, Robyn Gordon hit the offensive glass for Bryant and earned a trip to the free-throw line where she converted once. Walker followed up a while later with a drive to the rack to make it 28-22.
Van Buren’s Kayleigh Evans, who scored 16 on the Lady Hornets last year, interrupted with two free throws with 4:30 left in the quarter. Evans managed just 6 this time.
Gordon scored off an inbounds play the Walker combined with Gordon to force a turnover that led to a three-point play for Walker. Atkins made a steal and a layup and suddenly, the Lady Hornets held a 35-24 advantage.
Ryan hit the last 3 of the game for the Lady Pointers with 2:28 left in the third quarter. But McKenzie Muse answered inside for Bryant. Walker added a free throw and, after Van Buren’s Olivia Schnakenberg found the range, cutting the margin to 9.
But in the final 30 seconds, Walker and Trotter ended the quarter the way they had started it, with back-to-back 3’s, producing a 44-29 lead.
For good measure, Walker fired in another trey to start the fourth and the Lady Hornets were up 18.
Van Buren trimmed the margin to 47-33 and, after a turnover, Matthews called a final timeout at the 5:22 mark. Sparked by Walker’s final 3, the Lady Hornets closed out the game on a 7-2 push to secure the victory.
“I was really proud of our kids’ effort,” Matthews stated. “Two years ago, we didn’t make the State tournament. Last year, we made the State tournament and Chris and them gave us a quick exit. This year, to make it again and now win a game, we couldn’t be more excited. I couldn’t be more happy for our kids.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into this,” he concluded. “Really, it’s year-round. To get rewarded like this is good for them.”
LADY HORNETS 54, LADY POINTERS 35
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 12 26 10 – 54
Van Buren 13 9 7 6 – 35
LADY HORNETS (16-10) 54
Trotter 3-13 0-1 8, Atkins 2-6 0-0 4, Walker 10-19 5-7 34, Gordon 1-4 1-2 3, Muse 2-4 0-1 4, Steen 0-1 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0, R0uss 0-2 1-2 1. Totals: 18-49 (37%) 9-13 (69%) 54.
LADY POINTERS (15-13) 35
Miller 2-9 1-2 6, Porter 0-1 1-2 1, Ryan 3-7 1-2 10, Evans 2-5 2-4 6, Schnakenberg 3-4 0-0 6, Kannady 1-5 2-3 4, Greebe 0-0 2-2 2, Schmidt 0-0 0-0 0 Woodard 0-0 0-0 0, Rainwater 0-0 0-0 0, Nguyen 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 11-33 (33%) 9-15 (60%) 35.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-23 (Walker 6-13, Trotter 2-6, Atkins 0-2, Muse 0-1, Steen 0-1), Van Buren 4-15 (Ryan 3-5, Miller 1-4, Kannady 0-2, Nguyen 0-2, Porter 0-1, Evans 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Van Buren 19. Rebounds: Bryant 14-20 34 (Trotter 2-5 7, Steen 4-3 7, Muse 1-3 4, Walker 0-3 3, Gordon 1-2 3, Russ 2-1 3, Atkins 2-0 2, Martin 0-2 2, team 2-1 3), Van Buren 5-20 25 (Greebe 0-5 5, Ryan 0-4 4, Kannady 1-2 3, Porter 0-2 2, Evans 1-1 2, Schnakenberg 1-1 2, Miller 0-1 1, Schmidt 0-1 1, team 2-3 5). Team fouls: Bryant 11, Van Buren 13. Fouled out: Bryant, Gordon. Technical foul: Bryant (illegal substitution).