The Wildcats had a successful weekend at the ORU Thanksgiving Tournament, finishing 2-0 after beating Little Rock on Saturday, 66-61, and Arkansas State on Sunday, 81-69.
“Our players with staying focused in regards to keys of the game, personnel and our game plans,” said head coach Julie Goodenough. “We played two really good Sun Belt Conference schools this tournament, and they were both very different. They had to learn a lot over a three-day period, and they did a great job of stepping up and following through with what the coaching staff thought were keys to the game.”
For the first game in the tournament, the Wildcats were fresh off of their first loss of the season at Kansas State. As the team went into their matchup with Little Rock, they expected a close matchup that was contingent on the strong defense the Trojans had become known for.
ACU’s six-point win was the closest point margin that the team has faced all season, and while offense was a strong factor for the team, defense ultimately won ACU the game. After being down in the third quarter by double-digits, the Wildcats were able to hold the Trojans to five points in the final 10 minutes, while they scored 17 in the final frame.
“Our team was calm and confident, they never had a feeling of hopelessness,” Goodenough said. “They kept on going back and making good decisions on offense, as well as getting big defensive stops. We changed our defense a lot in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and the players did a great job making that adjustment and stopped them scoring.”
Leading the Wildcats offensively for the second straight game was graduate transfer guard Jaime Bonnarens. Coming off the bench, she finished Saturday afternoon with 16 points on 5-7 shooting from the 3-point line, as well as added three rebounds to her stats for the game.
One thing that Bonnarens noted after the game was the team’s determination to win, no matter if it was a close game or if they got out to a lead.
“I’m really proud of our grit and determination,” Bonnarens said. “We jumped out on them, but then it got super close throughout the rest of the game, and it really was a grind the whole time. Though we had some lapses, we never let up, but we were super determined to win no matter the score.”
Next, the Wildcats faced a 24-hour turnaround and started preparing for Arkansas State, who was a team much more offensively-minded versus Little Rock, who hangs their hat on defense.
The Wildcats got out to a quick start in the first half, going into the locker room with a 42-30 lead. In the third quarter, Arkansas State began to mount a comeback, and with 6:38 left in the quarter, cut the lead to 42-40.
Then, off of a steal caused by redshirt junior guard Kamryn Mraz, the Wildcats took it down the court, and senior guard Madi Miller made a much-needed 3-point shot, and the next possession, Bonnarens hit another 3-pointer to extend the lead to eight points.
From there, the Wildcats never looked back.
Led by a majority veteran roster on the floor, ACU took control of the remainder of the game, expanding the lead all the way through the fourth quarter. At one point in time, the Wildcats had an 18-point lead before Arkansas State cut it down to 11 points by the final buzzer.
“Our seniors and grad transfers have played so many college basketball games that they never got rattled,” Goodenough said. “They stayed the course and never got frustrated. This game spoke volumes about the maturity of the grad transfers and the seniors on our team this year.”
Miller finished the game leading the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points, but also added seven assists to her totals. Closely behind Miller was Mraz, who finished with 16 points and had a career-high seven assists. Bonnarens also had her third-straight double-digit game with 13 points.
With all the veterans on the team, Miller has seen how all their experience in their collegiate careers has combined, so that in moments like Sunday’s game, the team can come out successful.
“We’re all on the same wavelength and we all have been thinking similarly while on the court together,” Miller said. “We calm each other down and the experience we have together when we are out there together really makes a difference. ”
Now, the Wildcats will take a break as they prepare for their next matchup against Southland opponent, Nicholls. The Wildcats faced Nicholls multiple times last season, with the most recent being a loss in the Southland Conference Tournament.
The Wildcats will tip-off in Thibodaux, LA. on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m., with the game broadcasting live on 102.7 F.M., The Bear.