A huge sigh of relief washed over Arkansas-Pine Bluff head coach Nate Kilbert after he exited the locker room following Saturday’s 64-58 win over Grambling State inside the H.O. Clemmons Arena.
“Our kids have been playing some pretty good basketball as of late, we just didn’t know how to win games down the stretch,” Kilbert said. “At one point in that game, I thought we didn’t know how to win down the stretch because we threw it away at times when we had people wide open underneath the basket.”
The win snapped a 16-game losing streak and gave the Lady Lions their first win in conference.
UAPB (2-15, 1-7 SWAC) led Grambling State (7-12, 4-4) 59-56 with 2:53 left in the game. But the Lady Lions made 5 of 7 from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal their first victory since the season opener against Philander Smith back in November.
“The key to it was free-throw shooting,” Kilbert said. “We made the free throws down the stretch.
“If we had done that in some of our other ball games, we wouldn’t have been here talking about a losing streak.”
Senior Christina Lasane made two free throws with 32 seconds left to give UAPB a 61-56 lead and then made one of two from the line with 23 seconds left to give the Lady Lions a 62-56 lead. Lasane finished with just three points and was 0 for 8 from the floor.
“We tell these kids all the time, ‘You can not win at this level if you can not make free throws,’” Kilbert said. “The only reason we won this game is because we made free throws.
“We turned it over enough times for them to get back into the game. … When you make your free throws, you can win.”
With 18.2 seconds left, Grambling’s Dennisha Chambers answered with a quick layup to cut the deficit to 62-58.
But UAPB’s Charisse Carr, who finished the game with 10 points and five rebounds, made two from the line with 11.8 seconds left for the final score.
“We have been practicing on our free throws since we got here from the last game,” sophomore guard Cassidy Wright said. “We knew this is our home court.
“Every shot that we take should be a high percentage shot. Free throw wise, practice them too much to miss those.”
UAPB was 14 of 21 from the free-throw line in the second half and was 17 of 25 (68 percent) for the game. Grambling State was just 6 of 10 from the line in the game.
“If we had been making (our free throws) earlier (this year), we wouldn’t even be here talking about this,” Kilbert said. “We might have had a five-game winning streak, if were making free throws.”
After UAPB freshman Mollie Campbell made a jump shot from near the free throw line to tie the game at nine with less than 14 minutes left in the first half, Grambling State went on a 10-0 run to take a 19-9 lead with about 10 minutes left.
But then the Lady Lions got a little support from the most unlikely source.
UAPB junior Carlisha Walker hit a bucket with 9:02 left in the first half to trim the deficit to 19-11. Then junior Makayla Wormley hit back-to-back buckets from about 12 feet out to get the Lady Lions within four.
“We get on Makayla all the time in practice to shoot the ball,” Wright said. “She’s an excellent shooter.”
Coming into the game, Wormley had attempted just two shots in 14 games. She finished Saturday with eight points on 3 of 4 shooting and 2 of 2 from the free throw line.
“She shoots the ball well in practice,” Kilbert said. “That shot she was making, it was no surprise.
“She makes it all the time in practice. But to get her to shoot it is like pulling teeth.”
Wright led the Lady Lions with 11 points on 3 of 6 shooting and Marion Thompson had nine points to go a long with her game-high 11 rebounds.
“We don’t have no individual capable of getting on their back and riding them to the promise land,” Kilbert said. “It has got to be everybody.
“We got to play like that all the time.”