Before Saturday’s game against Southern University, Arkansas-Pine Bluff freshman Cassidy Wright – who is out for the season with an injury – gathered her team together in the locker room to try to inspire the team.
It must have worked as the Lady Lions snapped a four-game losing streak to pull off the 59-50 upset over league-leading Southern at H.O. Clemmons Arena.
“I think Cassidy’s injury kind of sparked them a little,” UAPB head coach Nate Kilbert said. “They really played with a sense of urgency and when they play like that, we are a pretty good basketball team.”
UAPB trailed 2-0 to start the game, but after a 12-1 run to take a nine-point lead, the Lady Lions would never trail again as they improved to 8-14 overall and 4-8 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
“It is a huge win for our program, no question about that,” Kilbert said. “The bad part about all this, people don’t realize how well we played in some of those losses.
“To lose our starting point guard, I thought we played some real good basketball.”
Kilbert said “this team is just right around the corner from being a real good team.”
“I thought they played some real good basketball tonight and played with a lot of energy,” Kilbert said. “Our bench played well and not just scoring wise, but defensively they did some good things for us.”
Junior Jenise Gentry came off the bench and scored 10 points on 3 of 7 shooting. She was also 4 of 8 from the free throw line and grabbed four rebounds.
“When I was hired at UAPB, I thought she was a double-double person, but she hasn’t been playing up to that ability,” Kilbert said. “And tonight she did.
“If she continue to play like that we will be a hard team to beat. She came out with a lot more enthusiasm about the game.”
Southern falls to 11-12 and 10-2 in conference following the loss.
Southern had cut the deficit to just five points with 1:28 left in the first half, but a transition layup by UAPB’s Christina Lasane and a free-throw gave the Lady Lions a 28-20 lead at half.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Kilbert said. “What they have done is make us expect this every night now, even in practice.
“If you can play this way against a number-one team, then we expect you to play like this all the time or even better.”
To start the second half, Lasane scored on an easy layup thanks to an assist from Lakendra Marsh. Lasane followed with a shot off the glass to give UAPB a 32-22 lead.
A three-pointer from Marsh gave UAPB a 35-22 lead.
Lasane led UAPB with 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting and 5 of 8 from the free throw line. Marsh contributed with nine points. Senior Chi Chi Okwumabua scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“[Lasane] has been playing some really good basketball as of late,” Kilbert said. “She’s really not a point guard, she’s more of a 2 or 3 player, but she has been playing some solid basketball for us.”
Kilbert said he would like Lasane to get into better shape so she can defend better.
“With this ballclub, we need her to play like that,” Kilbert said.
The losing streak included a 66-63 loss in overtime to Alabama State. Kilbert said the difference between Saturday and the other four games was UAPB’s ability to finish.
“We finished the game out,” Kilbert said. “At some point, we either turned the ball over or we didn’t make free throws down the stretch.
“We did both tonight. We shot our free throws well and we didn’t turn it over.”
UAPB was 15 of 26 from the free throw line and turned it over 20 times.
The Lady Lions were 21 of 46 from the floor and 2 of 12 from the three-point arch. Southern was 19 of 45 (42 percent) from the floor and 10 of 14 from the free throw line. They made 2 of 8 from the three-point range.
Southern was led by Yasmin Fuller with 15 points. Kendra Coleman contributed with 12 points and four rebounds. Lechell Rush had eight points.
“It was just a great win for us to come back home and play the way played in front of our fans,” Kilbert said.
UAPB will host Alcorn State on Monday beginning at 5 p.m.