The Wildcats remain undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play, defeating the Sam Houston State Bearkats in Huntsville, 70-59, despite a smaller roster.
Heading into the matchup against their old Southland Conference rival, ACU already faced adversity. Due to COVID-19 protocols, five of ACU’s players, three of them being starters and leading scorers, were unable to play in Saturday’s game. With the loss of those five players and starters, the roleplayers on the Wildcat’s roster stepped in and took charge to earn the win on the road.
“We were lacking a few players, but we definitely weren’t lacking in our confidence, focus and grittiness,” said head coach Julie Goodenough. “We had a spirit of unrelenting teamwork, and I am so proud about how our team responded to adversity.”
Leading the way for the Wildcats was sophomore guard Taylor Morgan. In her 40 minutes of play, Morgan earned a career-high 21 points, shooting 50 percent from the field. She also led the team with seven rebounds and added two assists to her totals.
After the game, Goodenough acknowledged how Morgan had a very challenging task ahead of her in the matchup, and how she was proud of how Morgan responded.
“Taylor was put in the most difficult with being our point guard against Sam Houston, who presses the whole game, while having no true backup point guard to come in for her, and she was tremendous,” Goodenough said. “She handled everything with composure and poise, plus she was ready to score for us when she had the opportunity. She handled herself so well in the situation we put her in, and we are really proud of her response to us being shorthanded.”
But it was not just Morgan who stepped up to allow ACU to earn the win. Graduate forward Tatum Barber and senior guard Madi Miller added 17 points apiece, with Barber tying Morgan with seven rebounds. The final Wildcat in double digits was graduate forward Emma Middleton, scoring ten points while also shooting 50 percent from the field.
“Heading into the game, we talked about how we didn’t need anyone to become Sarah [Griswold] or to become Jamie [Bonnarens] all of the sudden, we just need them to focus on being the version of themselves,” Goodenough said. “For them not to try to do anything outside of their skillset, but be very intentional about them bringing their best effort.
As for the game itself, the first half was close the entire time, with both teams exchanging buckets back and forth, resulting in a 34-34 score at halftime. Things changed in the third quarter, where ACU outscored Sam Houston 18-10, allowing them to keep a healthy lead throughout the rest of the fourth quarter that turned into the 11-point win.
The key factors that allowed the Wildcats to win on Saturday were points off turnovers, shooting from the field and free throws.
ACU finished shooting 46 percent from the field while the Bearkats finished shooting 37 percent. Both teams finished with 14 turnovers, but the Wildcats were able to capitalize better, outscoring Sam Houston 20-9 in points off of turnovers. The Wildcats were also better at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line, which was on full display in the second half. ACU was 11-12 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes, while the Bearkats did not go to the free-throw the entire second half.
“There were quite a few possessions in the second half where our players were in stances defensively, got deflections that led into steals and early offense, which helped give us momentum for the rest of the game,” Goodenough said. “We were alert, scrambling after and forcing loose ball with our hands. We also knew the aggressiveness of Sam Houston’s defense, so we knew we could get to the free-throw line, and when you get up there, it’s your job to put it in the hole.”
With the win, the Wildcats are 3-0 in conference play and remain the number one ranked team in the Western Athletic Conference standings.
“It’s a really good place to be right now,” Goodenough said. “We know that we have a lot of games to play yet, but you don’t want to start out in a hole since it is so hard to get out of one. So, I’m really proud of how our team has been serious about these first three games and how they took care of business.”
Now, ACU faces a quick turnaround, facing another former Southland Conference turned WAC foe Stephen F. Austin. Both teams play each other after having to reschedule their first matchup due to COVID-19 protocols. The two teams, who are both undefeated in conference play, will face-off on Monday, January 10 in Nacogdoches at 6:30 p.m. with the game streaming live on ESPN+.