By Chuck Livingston, Sports Editor, The Evening Times and ASU Sports Information
Hosting NJCCA Region II rival North Arkansas on Saturday, the Lady Greyhounds (4-11 overall) spotted the Lady Pioneers a 15-0 first quarter lead, before battling back to tie the game in the third quarter, only to lose a 74-67 game.
The loss ensures that ASU Mid-South will play the Region II title contest in Harrison on the campus of North Arkansas College. The Lady Greyhounds would have had to sweep the season series to host the game, which is scheduled for February 27.
"Starting the game down 15 points was bad because our goal is to allow 15 points or fewer per quarter," said ASU Mid-South head coach Sonja Tate after the game. "With that being said, we really fought hard. We were down 13 at the half, fought back. We showed a lot of resilience just to get back into the game and we never quit."
North Arkansas was led by Cara Barnett's game-high 23 points, while Jolene Shipps hit for 17 and Skylar Johnson poured in 12 of her own.
While the Lady Greyhounds worked its way back into the game eventually, the first quarter was owned by the Lady Pioneers. North Arkansas hit 9 of their 18 shots from the field in that frame, relying on ball movement to get clean looks. That team accounted for 5 assists in the game's first 10 minutes.
While North Arkansas' offense was efficient, their defense may have been better. ASU Mid-South did not score until there was 4:02 left in the first quarter and they trailed 21-6 entering the second period.
That's when ASU Mid-South's resilience began to emerge.
The Lady Greyhounds trimmed the North Arkansas lead to 28-18 midway through the quarter before settling for a 39-26 deficit at the break.
The third quarter saw the bigger Lady Pioneers crash the offensive glass to the tune of 7 offensive boards, 4 of them coming on one possession. Those second-chance opportunities meant little, however as North Arkansas hit just 3 of their 14 shots in that quarter.
ASU Mid-South also employed a full-court press to force 8 North Arkansas turnovers in the frame to aid the rally.
"Our team hangs its hat on being aggressive on offense and defense," Tate explained. "We don't really have the size that a lot of teams have, so we want to take advantage of our quickness. I felt like we let them walk it up and play their pace in the first half, so we wanted to speed them up a bit."
While North Arkansas cooled off, ASU Mid-South's aggressiveness paid off as Hawkins continued to attack the basket, hitting for 8 of her points in that frame, and the Lady Greyhounds evened the score when Williams chased down an offensive rebound and converted it into a layup with 3:25 left in the period.
However, those were the last points ASU Mid-South would score in that quarter until a Hawkins runner fell through with 5.6 seconds left in the frame and the hosts trailed 54-48 after three.
"Going down 15 and exerting so much energy just to get back in to the game really hurt us because we didn't finish some easy looks," added Tate.
Just as Hawkins had gone off in the third quarter, this time it was Barnett, the North Arkansas point guard who carried the Lady Pioneers home. The sophomore continually broke the press and got North Arkansas into their offense, while scoring 6 points from the free throw line in that quarter.
ASU Mid-South stays at home when they host Northeast Mississippi at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It will be a women's only game.