For the first time in about 18 years, head coach Loy Moore used a zone defense, and it paid off for him Tuesday as host Pine Bluff defeated El Dorado 46-35 — the Lady Wildcats’ first loss in the state of Arkansas this season.
“The only other loss they had was to a team down in Louisiana,” Moore said.
El Dorado (21-2, 8-1 7A/6A-South) is still a half-game game ahead of Pine Bluff (18-5, 8-2) in the conference standings, but it has to play Benton on the road, a game which Moore thinks Benton can win.
“Benton is legit,” Moore said. “So as long as we can take of our business, and Benton can win on their end, we could move into first place.”
Going into the game, Moore knew his team would have matchup problems especially considering El Dorado’s size and height advantage.
He switched to a zone defense – something he said he wasn’t even sure he knew how to coach – and it paid off for the Fillies.
“Once their big girl got into foul trouble, we were able to spread it out more and go back to what we are used to,” Moore said.
Moore said he was proud of the way his defense responded Tuesday night.
“Anytime you can hold a team like that below 40 points, you have a good chance at winning,” Moore said.
To start the second quarter, Pine Bluff trailed 11-10 and fell behind 15-10 after four made free throws by the Lady Wildcats.
Pine Bluff junior Jasmyn Eckermann responded by making a pair of free throws with 6:21 left in the first half to cut the deficit to three points. She followed that with outside jumper and the Fillies trailed 15-14.
After a made free throw by El Dorado with 5:38 left, Pine Bluff senior Ajia Richardson scored to tie the game with 5:25 left. A steal and a layup by junior Kye Richardson gave Pine Bluff a two-point lead.
“We didn’t shoot the ball all that well,” Moore said. “But as long as you stay composed and play well on defense, it just works.”
With 3:21 left in the first half, Ajia Richardson scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw but it gave the Fillies a four-point lead.
By the end of the first half, Pine Bluff led El Dorado 24-18.
Richardson finished with a game-high 21 points and Eckermann contributed with 11. Keyanna Smith led El Dorado with nine points.
“(Ajia) wants to go out with a championship,” Moore said. “And tonight she helped us get one step closer to achieving that goal.”
Neither team managed to do too much in the third quarter, as both sides were playing sloppy at times. Heading into the final period, the Fillies led 29-25.
Pine Bluff will host Lake Hamilton in a makeup game Thursday night at McFadden Gymnasium. The Lady Wolves defeated the Fillies at their place earlier this season.
“It doesn’t get any easier because Lake Hamilton has some pretty big girls too,” Moore said. “But I’m glad we get that back-to-back. It is going to be a nice challenge.”