BELTON — Just how good Mary Hardin-Baylor is can be debated. One thing’s for sure, though. The Lady Crusaders are making a lot of preseason voters look really bad.
UMHB, the preseason No. 9 pick in the American Southwest Conference, continued its climb up the league standings Saturday afternoon with an 80-63 victory over Mississippi College at Mayborn Campus Center.
By winning for the 10th time in their last 11 games, the Lady Crusaders (12-7, 12-4) grabbed sole possession of third place in the ASC with six games remaining before the conference tournament.
“The girls are already wondering if they’re going to get rings,” second-year UMHB coach Lisa Curliss-Taylor said. “I told them, ‘Let’s get to that point first, then we’ll decide those things.’
“It’s good, though, because they’re confident. We didn’t have that last year when we didn’t think we could do anything, which is why we gave up some games.”
There was no giving up in Saturday’s game that was played at a much slower pace than the Lady Crusaders are accustomed.
The Lady Choctaws’ preference to hunker down in a zone defense and the 59 turnovers totaled between the teams left little room for fast breaks.
“When a team plays zone and walks the ball up the court, it slows the game down,” Curliss-Taylor said. “This game was so slow that it got to us a little bit.”
MC (8-10, 6-9) shot 57 percent in the first half and held a 36-35 lead at the break, before it was all UMHB in the second half. The Lady Choctaws shot only 38 percent after intermission and were outscored 45-27.
“We just have to play our game,” UMHB senior post Jovana Miles said. “We have to be mentally tough and make sure we play our game and play like we want to play.”
Miles presence on the court coincided with the Lady Crusaders’ best stretches, and her breathers on the bench were in lockstep with any surges by the Lady Choctaws.
“I feel like I bring a lot of energy and intensity to the game,” said Miles, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “Whenever I am on the bench, I watch what’s going on so I can look for things that I can go in and do.
“I think I’ve improved a bunch the last few years. I’m more of an offensive threat instead of being known as just a defensive player.”
Added Curliss-Taylor: “It’s huge for us when she’s on the court, and it’s sad thinking that next year we won’t have her. Just her being on the floor makes us play better.”
Taylor Tucker had game-highs of 23 points and nine rebounds, Alyssa Dean added 17 points and Kourtney Bevers chipped in 11 off the bench for UMHB, which shot 51 percent (28-of-55) from the floor.
Alexus Stirgus had 20 points, Cara Beverin 14 and Cassie Berry 10 for MC, which was outrebounded 36-23.
The Lady Crusaders are only one game behind second-place Texas-Dallas and two games back of league-leading Texas-Tyler, with less than four weeks left before the conference tournament.
“We’re excited for the conference tournament,” Miles said. “We’ve been building all year long and each game is a step toward the tournament.”