By Michael Freeman, Assistant Sports Editor
ACU head coach Shawna Lavender called Thursday night’s win one of the biggest victories for the women’s basketball program in the last four or five years. And when that win is over No. 12 West Texas A&M, a team that has not lost a conference game since Jan. 28, 2006, that statement is quite accurate. In fact, the Wildcats have not beaten the Lady Buffs since the 2002-03 season. But that all changed Thursday night. ACU took down West Texas A&M 71-66 in an overtime thriller in Moody Coliseum.
With the victory, ACU is 11-9 overall and 5-2 in the Lone Star Conference South Division. West Texas A&M fell to 16-4 overall and experienced their first conference loss of the season as they dropped to 6-1.
“We never threw the towel in,” said Lavender. “And we executed when we needed to. That’s probably one of the biggest wins for our program in the last four or five years.”
Center Audrey Maxwell led the Wildcats with 26 points and 18 rebounds. Forward Jamie Meyer and guard Alex Guiton also scored in double-figures. Meyer finished the game with 13 points to go along with six rebounds, while Guiton put up 15 points.
The Lady Buffs also had three players score in double-digits with guard Emily Brister leading the way with 20 points and seven rebounds. But ACU’s efforts were enough to defeat West Texas A&M — the first time the Wildcats have beaten the Lady Buffs at home since Jan. 17, 1998.
“It was huge,” Maxwell said. “This was the biggest win for us. We really needed this win tonight.”
The historic night began as the Wildcats jumped out to a quick 6-0 start in the opening three minutes. However, West Texas A&M was not going to go out quietly. The Lady Buffs’ swarming full court defense caused 16 Wildcat turnovers in the first half, and by the 10:34 mark had given West Texas A&M a 19-7 lead.
ACU slowly clawed back in part due to free throws. West Texas A&M committed 14 fouls in the first half. By the 3:18 mark, the Wildcats had cut the lead down to 23-22 after a pair of Guiton free throws. ACU kept it close as they went into halftime trailing 30-26.
“It was definitely a different game for us because they play five guards mostly,” Maxwell said. “I think it took the first half for me and my teammates to get used to it. You just have to adjust.”
The Wildcats came out of the break on fire as they blazed an 11-2 run in the first four minutes. ACU took the lead 37-32 after a 3-pointer by Meyer. The Wildcats held onto a small lead throughout second half until West Texas A&M regained it off a 3-pointer by guard Chelsea Blackshear. The Lady Buffs went up 49-48 with 8:35 remaining, and it appeared to be the turning point of the game as West Texas continued to build a 58-50 lead.
“We got down by eight,” Lavender said. “It was a true gut check for us in the second half.”
West Texas A&M’s aggressive defense backfired as they picked up more fouls in the second half, and ACU continued to drain free throws. With 3:03 left, Guiton hit a pair of free throws that cut the lead to 58-55. Forty seconds later, forward Kristee Davidson drained two more free throws that whittled the Lady Buff lead down to 58-57.
West Texas A&M guard Courtney Lee gave the Lady Buffs a three-point lead again on the ensuing possession after hitting a jump shot. But with 1:46 remaining, Maxwell buried two free throws to shave the lead down again to one point.
The Wildcats finally took the lead at the 1:05 mark after Davidson hit a running floater, but the basket was waived off after a questionable charging foul was called on Davidson, which fouled her out of the game.
“It could’ve gone either way,” Lavender said. “I was worried a little bit because I wanted to see how our girls were going to react to that. But we stayed in it. It would’ve been easy for us to be like, ‘oh, we got ripped off at the end of the game.’ But we never lost our composure.”
The Wildcats didn’t let call phase them as Maxwell snatched a crucial rebound following a Jenessa McKray missed layup. Maxwell was fouled with 16.8 seconds, and went to the line where she hit two free throws that gave ACU a 61-60 advantage.
The Lady Buffs tried to answer by a Blackshear drive to the basket, where she drew a foul with 4.08 seconds left to go in the game. Blackshear missed her first free throw, but made the second, tying the game at 61.
For the final play of regulation, Guiton raced down the length of the court, but came up short on a layup at the buzzer.
“When we got into overtime, I really felt like we were going to win,” Lavender said. “We had girls who were about to pass out, cramping on the floor. But there was just a different look in the girls’ eyes.”
At beginning of overtime, West Texas struck first off a turnaround layup by McKray. But ACU refused to die as forward Jody Meyer hit a pair of free throws with 3:45 to go, and Jamie Meyer hit a turnaround jumper to tie the game at 65 with 2:16 left.
West Texas A&M’s Brister was fouled with exactly one minute remaining in the game. She hit only one of her two free throws.
The Wildcats took advantage on the following play where Maxwell hit a layup after receiving a pass from guard Kathryn Kundmueller with 44.72 seconds left in the game. Then, Maxwell grabbed another key rebound following a missed 3-pointer by Lady Buff Holly Isaacs. Kundmueller got the ball, and was then fouled with 22.21 remaining in the game. Kundmueller then buried two free throws to put ACU up 69-66.
In desperation, West Texas A&M missed two 3-point shots on the following possession. Guiton got the ball, and was fouled with 2.23 seconds left. Guiton then drained a pair of free throws to clinch the 71-66 victory for the Wildcats.
“We hit our free throws when we needed to,” Lavender said. “We hit big free throws tonight, and everyone hit them.”
West Texas ended the game with 27 fouls, and ACU took advantage by hitting 84.2 percent of their free throws, including going 6-6 in overtime. The Wildcats also out-rebounded the Lady Buffs with 42 to their 28. And ACU out-shot West Texas A&M by hitting 41.9 percent from the field, while the Lady Buffs hit 37.5 percent of their shots.
“It’s huge whenever you can knock off an opponent like that,” Lavender said. “It gives your team a lot of confidence. But it doesn’t do us any good to have a big win if we can’t continue throughout the rest of conference.”
Next up for the Wildcats is Texas Woman’s on Saturday in Moody Coliseum. Texas Woman’s is 8-12 overall with a 3-4 conference record.
“From here on out, everybody better watch out,” Maxwell said. “We’re only going to get better. We have our confidence, and we’re ready to play.”