Arkansas-Pine Bluff freshman Cassidy Wright, right, dribbles past Mississippi Valley State’s Joncyee Sanders during Wednesday’s game at H.O. Clemmons Arena. (Special to The Commercial/Mike Adam)
A poor shooting performance by Arkansas-Pine Bluff proved costly as the Lady Lions dropped Wednesday’s Southwestern Athletic Conference opener 71-64 to Mississippi Valley State at H.O. Clemmons Arena.
“This was probably one of the worse shooting nights we’ve had this year,” UAPB head coach Nate Kilbert said. “But both teams looked a little sluggish tonight, looked a little drained.
“I thought they made big baskets when they needed to.”
UAPB (4-7, 0-1 SWAC) trailed 46-39 at the 9:04 mark when MVSU’s Lenise Stallings hit a pair of free throws. MVSU (4-8, 1-0 SWAC) stretched their lead to seven points when Joncyee Sanders knocked down an easy bucket on transition with less than 7 minutes left in the game.
UAPB trimmed the deficit to 52-48 when Asia Rhines-Malone completed a three-point play with about five minutes left.
“I thought our kids did a good job of executing and getting the ball where we wanted to get it,” Kilbert said. “We just didn’t finish plays.
“We got the ball of our regular offense in the paint several times, we just missed the shot.
“We just had a tough time putting the ball in the basket.”
MVSU answered with a pair of free throws by Joncyee Sanders at the 5-minute mark. Jasmyne Sanders completed a three-point play of her own with 4:38 left to give MVSU a 57-48 lead.
“We were still able to hang around and have an opportunity to win the ball game near the end,” Kilbert said.
UAPB was just 4 of 22 from the beyond the arch and was just 20 of 64 from the floor.
Senior Lakendra Marsh, who is usually one of UAPB’s better shooters, was just 2 of 10 from the floor and 0 for 4 from the three-point range. She still finished with 10 points.
“Marsh is probably our best three-point shooter,” Kilbert said. “She had a bad night shooting from the three.
“When she has a night like that, we are going to struggle offensively. She got some good looks, she just missed them.
“When she is missing those open looks like that, it makes it tough for us to score.”
The Lady Lions still managed to have four players finish in double digits including: Chigozianyi Okwumbua who led the team with 14 points. Freshman Cassidy Wright contributed with 12 points, while Marsh and Rhines-Malone chipped in with 10 points.
“If [Marsh] makes those shots, we score way into the 70s or 80s,” Kilbert said. “She just had a tough night shooting the ball.
“I thought Valley did a good job of closing out on her though.”
UAPB had 25 turnovers against MVSU, including eight from Wright.
“She knew it was a conference game, she knew this game was bigger than some of the others,” Kilbert said. “She’ll get pass that. She just need to play more conference games.
“She just wasn’t she the same person that she has been in a regular game.”
MVSU was 20 of 47 from the floor (42 percent) and 5 of 13 from the three-point range. They were also 14 of 22 from the free throw line.
One of the major positives for UAPB was their free throw shooting. The Lady Lions finished Wednesday 20 of 22 from the charity stripe.
“We just had a tough night all the way around,” Kilbert said. “Good free throw shooting kept us in the game, but we got to do a better job defensively.”
Kilbert, who was the head coach at Valley for 11 seasons, said Wednesday’s game was no different than any other opponent.
“Before the tip off, you kind of have butterflies playing against your former team,” Kilbert said. “But once the ball goes up in the air, they are just another opponent.
“I think that’s how those looked at us a well – just another opponent. They were familiar with some of the things we did defensively, and we had the change the name of it.
“But they still recognized what we were in.”
Kilbert is the reigning SWAC coach of the year after leading MVSU to the 2011-12 SWAC Championship and a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
“Valley is going to be one of the top teams in this league,” Kilbert said. “We just got to continue to grow and continue to get better.”
UAPB will host Alabama State University on Sunday at H.O. Clemmons Arena beginning at 4 p.m.