By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Missouri Western women's basketball team overcame an 11-point second half deficit, came through in the clutch in the fourth quarter and pulled off a 66-63 win over No. 5 and previously undefeated Central Missouri at the MWSU Fieldhouse Saturday.
The Griffons (17-4, 11-2 MIAA) got down by nine points in the second quarter, but only trailed 33-28 at halftime. Then, the Jennies (16-1, 12-1 MIAA) took a 44-33 lead with 5:21 left in the third.
The Griffons called timeout, got back to within five with 1:44 to go in the third, but still trailed 52-43 entering the fourth. But at that point, Missouri Western coach Candi Whitaker was confident her team was starting to put it together.
"I thought we were starting to figure some things out end of the third," coach Whitaker said. "I liked the way Brionna (Budgets) looked, I liked the way Connie (Clarke) looked and I felt like we had confidence going into the fourth. That's what it was about. Our players made plays, and Johnni (Gonzalez) was huge for us."
Indeed, a three-pointer by Missouri Western's Johnni Gonzalez made it a 52-46 game with 9:13 remaining.
Suddenly, another Gonzalez triple put the Griffons up 63-59 with 1:55 to go. Junior Brionna Budgets added another three with 1:20 remaining to give Western a 66-61 advantage.
The Griffons outscored the Jennies 23-11 in the fourth quarter behind 57 percent shooting in the final period.
"Every single offensive possession (in the fourth) was executed," Whitaker noted. "We got great looks and played much tougher. We strung together such a great quarter to finish it out."
Budgets led Western with a game-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Gonzalez finished with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from long range. Junior Connie Clarke had 12 points, five steals, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
"We just played together," Budgets said. "It was really about teamwork. Communicating, executing the offense, making smart plays and finishing strong."
UCM battled to the bitter end. Down three points in the closing seconds, the Jennies missed a fast break layup off a steal with 13 seconds to go, and a game-tying three-point attempt by Cade Hackerott was off the mark with only four or so seconds left.
The ball was tipped around all over the floor after that miss, and the Jennies didn't get another shot off before the buzzer sounded.
It marks the 10th straight win for Missouri Western this season, their fourth straight win over the Jennies and it gives Central Missouri its first loss of the 2022-23 season after a program-record breaking 16-0 start.
The Griffons are now just a half-game back from Central Missouri in the MIAA standings with critical road trips to Fort Hays State (14-6) and No. 16 Nebraska-Kearney (18-3) this coming week.
"They all matter, they're all tough," Whitaker said. "We know the second time around how good Hays and Kearney are. It was a long time ago since we've played them, so I'm sure they've developed in some ways, so we'll get to work on this week's scout."
MWSU sees 14-point second half lead slip away against UCM
The first 30 minutes of Saturday's game against Central Missouri, for the most part, was going exactly how Missouri Western wanted it to.
The Griffons got off to a 9-4 start, led 37-33 at halftime and that lead expanded to 59-45 with 10:45 left in the game.
The Mules (9-10, 5-8 MIAA) flipped the game on its head at that point, outscoring the Griffons 34-15 the rest of the way, and Central Missouri tallied a 79-74 win over Missouri Western in St. Joseph Saturday.
Central Missouri hit 8-of-16 three-point attempts in the second half and made 12 total threes in the win. The Mules were an outstanding 23-of-26 at the free-throw line, and turned 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second chance points.
UCM also outscored Missouri Western 23-12 in fastbreak points, and the Mules scored 17 points off of 14 Griffon turnovers.
Gavin Pinkley led four UCM players in double figures with 26 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three. He was also 7-for-7 at the foul line.
"I think defensively, we lost some guys in transition," Missouri Western coach Will Martin said. "(Gavin) Pinkley specifically. He had a great night and we lost him a lot in transition and he made us pay on those threes. We kind of got out of our principles in our transition defense."
Western was again shorthanded Saturday. Will Eames is still out with a hand injury, while Ethan Kilgore was in street clothes with a boot on his right foot after a foot injury he suffered in the second half against Lincoln Thursday.
What's more, sophomore guard Zion Swader, who made the start Saturday, played only 12 total minutes after he went down in the first half with an apparent ankle injury.
Missouri Western (8-10, 4-8 MIAA) shot a solid 50 percent from the field Saturday and cashed in on 15-of-18 free-throw attempts. Reese Glover scored a season-high 19 points on a season-high tying five made threes.
JaRon Thames scored 18 points to go with five rebounds. Julius Dixon logged 11.
The Griffons have now dropped four straight games and seven of their last eight. As of Saturday, the Missouri Western men now sit in 11th place in the MIAA standings. The top 10 teams in the league advance to the MIAA tournament in March.
With 10 regular season games still to go before then, Martin believes there's ample time and opportunity to turn things around.
"We have to take ownership in the negatives but also look at the positives and correct the negatives," he said, "and really extenuate the positives so we can become the best basketball team we can be late in the season."
Both Missouri Western teams play at Fort Hays State Thursday. The women play at 5:30, the men follow at 7:30. Both games are on KFEQ Radio (680, 95.3, 680kfeq.com).
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