Facing the team that knocked them out of the state tournament last year, Wilson focused on starting and finishing strong. The Lady Rams accomplished that goal, but it was the middle quarters that were ultimately their undoing in a 60-53 loss to Cleveland at the King Holiday Hoopfest on Jan. 21 at Seattle Pacific University.
“Last year this is the game that sent us home,” said Wilson head coach Michelle Birge, referencing the playoff loss last year. “This game only wakes us up. We have to get better on the close-out. We knew about their forwards ahead of time. We knew about their shooters ahead of time. Unfortunately they had big nights, because we could not get our bodies to do what our minds knew we needed to do.”
Wilson held Cleveland to just two points through the first five minutes, and Carsen Stanley and Bethany Montgomery hit three-pointers in the first quarter to help launch the Lady Rams to a 17-9 lead. But the Eagles crept back into the game in the second quarter, as Myzhanique Ladd and Makayla Roper hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions with under two minutes left in the half to give the Eagles their first lead at 27-26. The Eagles went on a 22-5 run that spanned from the middle of the second quarter until late in the third, leading 41-30 when Wilson’s Kaysha Fox drained a three to bring it back to single digits.
“In the second and third quarter I thought we did a good job of breaking their pressure, but then we allowed them to resettle in their defense because we didn’t have the courage to attack when we needed to attack,” Birge said.
Cleveland continued to bring offensive and defensive pressure, getting their biggest lead at 56-40 on Ladd’s layup with just over five minutes left in the game. Wilson then launched a 13-0 run to get back in it, as Montgomery – who led the Rams with 18 points – scored seven points during the streak.
“We really had heart,” Montgomery said. “We knew that we could battle back. We’re unstoppable when we play together as a team and have that love and support, and we just never give up and fight until the end.”
Violet Morrow’s put-back with 52 seconds left cut it to 56-53, and the Rams had several chances to tie it on their next couple possessions. But they could not find the tying basket, and the Eagles were able to salt it away at the free-throw line.
Tia Briggs had nine points and 11 rebounds for Wilson, while Morrow had eight points and Fox tallied seven points for the Rams. Roper had a game-high 23 points for Cleveland, while Alexia Mefi had 10 points and Ladd added 10 points.
“I think this is good so we know the level we need to be at, and in practice we’re just going to try to obtain that level every day,” Montgomery said.