There have been celebrities at every NT game. This time it was the bachelorette. Apparently she and her fiancé are here for this. She is covering the game and he is tagging along. The celebrity quotient remains high for North Texas basketball games. This time noted Saints LB and NT alumnus Craig Robertson brought his kid in tow. That makes us similar, as I brought mine. Also in attendance was recent combine attendee Jeff Wilson.
All were there to see the Cinderella team of the women’s bracket. After dispatching 6th ranked Charlotte and 3rd ranked Louisiana Tech the NT women were facing an even greater challenge in this conference tournament. The other part of survive and advance that is frequently unstated: Survive and Advance to Face An Even Better Opponent.
WKU’s Ivy Brown boasts an approximate 17/10/1.5 block per game split and performed to average in Denton earlier this season on the way to a 14-point Topper win. This is a different North Texas team, one which does not require the regular season depth. Instead they had been relying on the standbys and that had carried them throughout this magical tourney run.
Jalie Mitchell said as much after the Tech game: She was going to rely on her girls to do what is needed.
Early, the two squads felt each other out and WKU looked a little hesitant. North Texas missed some drives to the bucket, but then started to get the luck. Micayla Buckner had a smooth spin and score that ignited the crowd, and Grace Goodheart faked a pass and got a rolling lay-in. North Texas was up 8-6 after Terriell Bradley got a bucket and the foul.
Western’s Tashia Brown was silent through the first with only two points on 0/5 shooting. NT sold out to front the post to any both talented post players from getting in the paint and wreaking havoc. Speaking of selling out, early on Brittany Smith flew down the court to knock the ball away from Ivy Brown after Brown had a breakaway. NT looked to be doing the things required of underdogs.
Western’s play of the first quarter was Sidnee Bopp firing an 27-foot three to beat the clock. NT had done well to keep the Lady Toppers out of the paint but Western would figure out a different way to attack.
After one quarter it was NT 14 WKU 13.
During the quarter break there was some underhanded play — both rebounders in the little timeout game were knocking the ball away from the opponent. That’s the kind of animosity this game is producing apparently.
Lauren Holmes hit a three to start the second quarter but it was WKU who would get crazy with it. Ivy Brown hit two and Sidnee Bopp hit another Steph Curry three to steal the lead for WKU. North Texas was taking everything inside and so Western decided that the deep stuff was the best stuff.
Late in the second, North Texas was starting to waver a bit. WKU’s press, like La Tech’s the day before, was starting to bother the Mean Green and careless passes were tossed. Lauren Holmes managed a ridiculous deep three herself to keep NT in it. That was at the 3:29 mark. NT hadn’t scored since Mim’s (nice looking) jumper at the 6:16 mark.
Later when Trena Mims drew a foul she missed both. That’s notable because she was a perfect 9/9 against La Tech. We were expecting to see some fatigue and the first sign of tired legs was missed free throws and short layups.
After the half NT was outscored 10-4 by the four minute mark, had a banged up Brittany Smith — who was thrown into the stands — and couldn’t buy a bucket on the offensive end. Whatever drives were managed ended with hopeful shots at the rim. Tired legs, tough defense, thrown rhythm — whatever the cause, it was affecting NT.
WKU on the other end was unlocking their stars as both Browns got some inside buckets working 1v1.
Tashia Brown had 12 in the third quarter as NT layup attempts fell short time and again. That was partly due to the WKU press which forced NT’s talented guards to expend energy breaking it then try to get the cup.
NT was vulnerable to both Browns inside, as the two talented Hilltoppers who averaged a combined 39 points were showing how they managed that. An array of silky post moves and step-backs from them at 36 points at the 6 min mark of the 4th.
All that said North Texas was down just 7 after a run of three throw trips. WKU was playing better ball but was fouling way to often. Ivy Brown had four fouls and the refs originally gave her her fifth to the roaring satisfaction of the green crowd before correcting the call to Elgedaway. That ignited WKU’s crowd. Tashia Brown hit a jumper and the FT to push things to 10 again with four to play.
The NT crowd was standing on its feet, and the WKU crowd was also.
Buoyed by the beneficial call, WKU went on a run to seal the game. What was a 7 point lead with 5:00 left after two Terrell free throws became an 18 point lead with minute left.
In a span of 30 seconds WKU’s Whitney Creech faked a pass, then got a layup then hit a bucket, then stole the ball, then got a pull up jumper. That sealed it if it wasn’t already sealed. NT was done — they gave everything they had in the three games this tournament and that was just not enough to beat a team the calibre of Western.
The Western crowd gets to enjoy both championship games on Saturday. This was the group that had loud complaints about the venue and yet flourished.
Afterward Jalie Mitchell spoke about how proud she was of the team despite the loss. “I thought we showed up. We gave up some buckets that we didn’t want game plan-wise but I’m proud.”
“They hit those threes. Could have lived without those.”
“In the second half we turned it on, fought and pushed it. We didn’t finish at the rim like I thought we needed to. Had some great opportunities. Didn’t finish at the rate we needed to. Not our night.”
Lauren Holmes called this season “a good start.”
“We did (make progress). Our first winning season in a while. That’s big-time. That just means we are moving in the right direction. Every year we have won more and more games — this is my third year and so to accomplish this every single player in that locker room were players we brought in and recruited and believed in. I’m proud — disappointed in the loss — but proud and things are only going up from here.”
“We are going to grow so much”
And so ends a great run for the North Texas women. The first winning season in about a decade was capped by an excellent tournament run. Few believed they had much of chance in the tournament, but Lauren Holmes said all that mattered was that they did:
“[The season] was definitely a success. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We proved to ourselves that we could get this far. Overall it is a good start for us.”
The entire team returns including current freshman Lauren Holmes. If this tournament is any indication, there will be more in store next time.