The eight-seed Wildcats fell in a close last minute three-point conversion to nine-seed Sam Houston for the first round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Las Vegas, 81-82.
The last time these two teams met was on Tuesday in Huntsville, where the Wildcats were able to secure the win, 74-68. Prior to this meeting, they met for the first time of the season in early January, when ACU fell 66-69 at home in Moody Coliseum. Both times these two teams have played, the competition has been tough and close, making both teams eager for the first-round matchup.
“This was just devastating,” head coach Julie Goodenough said. “What a devastating way to lose a ball game. I felt like we were pretty much in control the entire game. Obviously, Sam Houston got some momentum in the fourth quarter and I give them a lot of credit on the way they fought hard.”
ACU gained the first score of the game, but the Bearkats quickly came back and took the lead two minutes in. Despite Sam Houston pulling out ahead, the Wildcats answered back with a 13-point run, holding back the Bearkats to only scoring twice before the first timeout. At the end of the first quarter, graduate forward Maleeah Langstaff scored 10 out of the 21 points scored by ACU. This led the Wildcats to have a 10-point lead entering the second quarter over Sam Houston.
Starting the second quarter, the Bearkats put up a 5-2 score within the first minute. With six minutes remaining, Sam Houston went on a nine-point run, closing in the gap with ACU by one point. After that, the Wildcats were able to pull back a 10-point lead with sophomore guard Zoe Jackson scoring nine points in the five minutes she played. ACU ended up going into the half ahead with an eight-point lead, 40-32.
“I am very proud of our team on how they did really good things today,” Goodenough said. “We knew it would be a hard-fought battle because Sam Houston is a really tough team. It was just a pretty devastating way to lose a ball game.”
Coming out of the half, Sam Houston went on a six-point run causing the Wildcat’s offense to fall behind. Yet, ACU was able to hold out the lead as both teams went back and forth scoring. With 28 seconds to go in the third quarter, Langstaff secured a three-pointer, tallying her third-quarter points to 11 and total points of the game to 24. ACU closed out the quarter once again with a 10-point lead over Sam Houston.
In the fourth quarter, both teams started in a no-scoring period for the first minute, until Sam Houston was able to sink a three-pointer. The Wildcats reacted and put the Bearkats in a 12-point deficit with 7:30 to go, starting with a graduate guard Madi Miller three-pointer. Only two minutes after, sophomore guard Aspen Thorton dropped a three-pointer, pushing the Wildcats up by 15. The Bearkat offense forced the Wildcats to pull back their offensive game, causing a halt to their scoring. With 15 seconds left, Sam Houston closes in the lead by one, echoing previous matchup scores.
“In practice, that’s just how me and Madi play,” Langstaff said. “We want the ball in our hands and I think my ability to drive is just something that I hang my hat on so I just kept going. I was open so I just wanted to keep going in. Madi is great when I get in there and don’t have anyone. She can just kick out a three and that’s been working for us all season, so we just kept going back to it.”
With a late foul with nine seconds to go by Sam Houston, Miller was able to put the Wildcats up by one point. Yet in the next nine seconds, Sam Houston was able to tie the score 81-81 and drew a foul with two seconds left. The Bearkats secured a free throw, putting them up by one, and the Wildcats were unable to score once more, pushing the final score, 81-82.
Miller and Langstaff closed out their college career with the ending of today’s game. As a newcomer to ACU, Langstaff made her mark in the one year she was in Abilene and was named to the 2023 WAC All-Newcomer Team. Miller spent five years at ACU, making the 2019-20 ACU Comeback Student-Athlete of the Year and surpassed the 1,000 point mark this season, leaving her in the ACU history books. Miller said this journey she has been on at ACU has been the best one she has ever experienced.
“It’s definitely been one of the best journies I’ve ever been on,” Miller said. “I know there’s a lot to come for me in the future. Obviously, I have loved it, all five years here, and walking away from it is not going to be easy. But I couldn’t have asked for a better group of coaches to get me here and players to play around.”
The Wildcats closed out their 2023 season with a 15-14 overall record and a 9-9 conference record.
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