Women's basketball: Pioneers pull off the upset

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DRC/David Minton
TWU guard Toree Mason, left, passes the ball against Tarleton State’s Alexis Brown during Wednesday night’s game at Kitty Magee Arena.

The Lone Star Conference leading Tarleton State TexAnns entered Wednesday night's game against TWU riding a 15-game winning streak, but that came crashing down as the Pioneers pulled off the upset with a 55-48 victory at Kitty Magee Arena.

Tarleton State had not lost since Nov. 26, but found itself trailing 26-15 at halftime. TWU was able to sustain the lead in the second half despite an 11-0 run by the TexAnns that pulled them within 40-36.

However, the Pioneers (11-10, 6-9) held off Tarleton State as junior Brittney Nuzum hit a wide open 3-pointer and the TexAnns wouldn't get any closer.

"I thought they played with a lot of resolve and a lot of character, especially down the stretch," TWU head coach Beth Jillson said. "We could have hung our heads and gotten down, but we didn't. We kept battling and kept fighting. We didn't play on our heels. We made a lot of layups at the end and we finished it off with our free throws."

Junior Raquel Cuffie led all players with 14 points, including eight points after the TexAnns' run, despite being limited to 23 minutes as she was hampered by foul trouble throughout the game.

"I felt like we had some mismatches inside and we really did want to get the ball inside," Jillson said. "I thought she did a good job of pinning in the lane and we got her the ball. The guards did a good job distributing it and we finished shots. I thought we did a good job waiting on a good shot. We got a wide open layup or a wide open three-pointer at the end of the shot clock so they are having to work for 30 seconds. "

The Pioneers were 16 of 18 from the free-throw line, including an 8-for-8 night by senior Jessica Hanna. Hanna finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Nuzum scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

The TexAnns came into the game leading the Lone Star Conference in field-goal percentage at 44.8 percent, but they struggled in the first half as Pioneers held them to only 13 percent shooting.

"I thought they buckled down and they were really physical," Jillson said.

"They did a good job containing the drive and on their post players. I felt like it was a great team effort. We had five people on the court playing defense."

Jillson also credited her team's rebounding, as the undersized Pioneers tied the TexAnns with 35 rebounds.

"In the last three games we've been outrebounded by 10 or more, so that was a big key for us, and I was really proud of what I felt as winning that battle," Jillson said.

Tarleton State (17-6, 14-1) was undefeated in Lone Star play, 7-1 away from home, but Jillson said she felt like her team wasn't surprised they came away with the victory.

"We knew we could," Jillson said.

"It didn't surprise us that we did. We knew we could if we played for 40 minutes. The past games we played one half and didn't put two halves together. Tonight we put two halves together and that was the difference.

"It means a lot to our players to knock off an undefeated team, but there are still a lot of games to play and this doesn't make our season.

"We are turning the corner now, and we feel like we just need to keep winning games and get to the conference tournament, and in the conference tournament, anything can happen."

As for Cuffie, she echoed Jillson's sentiment.

"We shouldn't take this as a surprise," Cuffie said. "We could have beat anybody in our conference, but now we just have to believe in ourselves and keep doing it. We go on the road next game and now we have something to prove on the road that this wasn't a fluke."



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