Becoming the first two teams to score at least 90 points in a Heartland tournament women’s basketball game, the University of Arkansas Fort-Smith and Oklahoma Christian University’s performance in the quarterfinal game of the Heartland Conference Championships on Friday became the highest scoring game in tournament history.
Despite overcoming a 27-point deficit in the first half against the Lady Lions, the Lady Eagles fell short of the conference tournament victory, losing 105-94 to Arkansas Fort-Smith in the season-ending game.
Splitting during their regular season series, with the Lady Lions winning 89-84 in Fort Smith, AR, on Jan. 12 and the Lady Eagles winning 69-60 in the Nest on Feb. 18, the two teams tied for fourth in the regular season Heartland standings with a 10-6 conference record. Arkansas-Fort Smith received the tournament’s fourth seed on a tiebreaker, while the Lady Eagles entered the tournament as the fifth seed, with a 15-13 overall record.
“We probably played more zone when we faced them at home than we did at their place, so that will most likely be the case on Friday,” Head Basketball Coach Stephanie Findley said going into Friday’s matchup. “It helps keep our big girls out of foul trouble and Arkansas Fort-Smith runs a penetrating style of offense, which we are able to stop with our zone.”
During the matchup at the Union Multipurpose Activity Center in Tulsa, the Lady Eagles opened the game by hitting only four of its first 24 shot attempts, leading to a 56-32 advantage by the Lady Lions going into halftime. Arkansas Fort-Smith hit seven 3-pointers during the first quarter of the game, while also outrebounding the Lady Eagles 30-17 in the first half.
“Playing them just a week ago makes our opponent a little fresher in our minds than was the case last year,” Findley said. “Hopefully, this group of seniors can battle their way through some adversity in the games and make a comeback if necessary. We have been doing that all year, making some pretty good comebacks.”
The Lady Eagles cut a 27-point lead down to five in the fourth quarter, after hitting eight 3-pointers in the third quarter. A free-throw by senior Sarah Parker forced the game to 76-71 with 8:58 remaining in the game.
Foul trouble, however, forced three of the Lady Eagles’ starters to the bench, leading to a 22-9 run by the Lady Lions with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter and resulting in a lead Arkansas Fort-Smith would hold for the remainder of the game.
“One of the problems we had when we faced them away was that we got into foul trouble and put them on the free-throw line too much,” Findley said. “So, if we are going to win on Friday, we have to move our feet and keep them off the free-throw line.”
Arkansas Fort-Smith outrebounded the Lady Eagles 45-32 and forced 30 fouls by Oklahoma Christian.
“We played a tough preseason schedule to try and prepare us for conference and the conference tournament,” Findley said. “We lost some close ones in the preseason, but I think that kind of helped us understand that we can come back, hang in there and keep fighting. I would like to see us carry that mentality into the tournament.”
Friday’s matchup was the final game for six Oklahoma Christian seniors, including forward McKenzie Stanford who led all scorers with 27 points. Going 4-6 from the 3-point line, Stanford finished her collegiate career with 1,715 points, securing her second place on the Heartland career scoring list. She also finished her career sixth on the Oklahoma Christian career scoring list, behind five members of the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Hall of Fame.
Parker contributed 21 points and eight rebounds to Friday’s effort, while sophomore Addy Clift finished with 19 points, going 6-9 from the 3-point arc during the second half.
“These seniors, as I told them in the locker room, this class was maybe a little more special to me,” Findley said in an interview with the Sport’s Information Office. “I always think each year they are special, but these guys were really good. They all play so hard and I hope that is the legacy they are leaving for our girls. They never quit and they showed the respect that I do not always get from the senior class. These guys have always shown me appreciation for what I do and I appreciate that.”
Statistics provided by the Oklahoma Christian University Sports Information office.