The Wildcats season came to a heartbreaking end on Friday when they fell to the University of Texas Permian Basin Falcons, 70-68 in Grand Junction, Colo., in the NCAA Division II South Central Regional tournament.
ACU battled back in the late going and was able to tie the game off a deep three from freshman Kynzie Newman with 11 seconds left. UTPB quickly inbounded the ball and was able to drive all the way down the court and convert a layup plus a foul to give them the lead with 2.6 seconds left in the game. The Falcons missed the layup, but recovered the rebound, and ran out the clock.
ACU entered into the NCAA tournament as the No. 5 seed, while UTPB was ranked fourth. The first half was extremely close, as the Wildcats were able to jump out to an early 20-8 lead with 13:55 left in the half.
Big threes from junior Mack Lankford really helped the ‘Cats grab the lead, as she had 11 first half points, including 3-3 from beyond the three point arc.
UTPB fought back with lockdown defense and was able to grab the lead 21-20 with 9:25 left off a 13-0 run. The Falcons out-rebounded the Wildcats and were able to take advantage of offensive boards and second chance points. Both teams went into the half with the score still very close, ACU up 40-36.
The second half began with aggressive play and a lot of early fouls on UTPB. The game remained close as the Wildcats would establish a five or six point lead, only to have the Falcons come back and make it a one or two point game.
ACU hurt themselves as sloppy playing filled with bad passes, miscommunication and a lack of urgency paved the way for UTPB to take the lead 58-56 with 9:39 left in the game.
Senior Kelsey Smith made a huge play for the Wildcats, converting on a three point play with 27.3 seconds left to cut the UTPB lead to one. The Wildcats battled vigorously and gave everything in the end, but it was not enough as UTPB was able to leave with the win.
Smith and sophomore Sadie Dickinson led ACU scoring with 16 points each. Smith added 13 rebounds to give her a double-double in the loss. Dickinson was 2-5 from beyond the arc. Junior Renata Marquez added 13 points and four rebounds. Lankford was shut out the second half as she finished with eleven points.
As a team, ACU was 7-11 from the free throw line and 9-21 from three. UTPB was 10-17 from the charity strike, most coming in the late going. The Falcons were 4-16 from the three point line. The ‘Cats were also out-rebounded 50-39 on the battle of the boards.
The Wildcats finish their last Lone Star Conference season as co-LSC champions with a 21-7 overall record, 16-4 in the LSC. They were 11-2 at home, 8-3 on the road and 2-2 on neutral courts. Lankford was the Wildcats leading scorer with 14.1 ppg., while Smith was the leading rebounder with 7.1 rebounds a game in her final season.