After failing to eclipse more than 73 points in all of last season, the TWU Pioneers showed on Monday night at Kitty Magee Arena that this year’s team can provide the scoring firepower when needed as they came away with an 80-72 season-opening victory over the Ouachita Baptist Lady Tigers.
The Pioneers shot just over 46 percent from the floor, with five players scoring in double figures. Junior guard Barbara-Scott Kolb and senior guard Rebekah Cluley both led TWU with 13 points. Kolb directed the Pioneers’ offense with seven assists and added four steals, while Cluley racked up nine rebounds and five assists. Senior Mary Kovtun, sophomore Daniell Westerfield and junior Ria Pateraki also scored in double figures.
“We had a very balanced scoring attack tonight,” TWU head coach Beth Jillson said. “I was really proud of the way we executed offensively. Our key was to get the ball inside and I felt like we did that. Then, late in the game, it opened up some shots for our perimeter players.”
TWU has seven returning players from last season, but has newly bolstered depth on the bench trying to get into the fold; something Kolb said her team has gotten off to a good start on.
“Right off the bat, all of our new people really just clicked and came together, especially in this game,” Kolb said. “We knew it was going to be a struggle and that they were a really quick, athletic team. We played together well. We kind of had some lapses on defense, but at the end we knew we had to finish strong and we did that.”
The Pioneers fell behind 11-4 early in the first half but closed out the half on a 12-5 run, which gave them a 44-37 lead.
TWU built their lead to 12 points midway through the second half on senior Kaitlyn Waller's bucket, but the Lady Tigers held close with an 8-0 answer to draw within 56-52.
Later, six straight points made it a two-point deficit for Ouachita Baptist, but Kovtun came up with five straight points of her own to snuff out the Lady Tigers’ comeback and give TWU a 70-63 lead with less than four minutes left.
“I thought we bent but didn’t break and I think that was really huge for our team, and I think that just shows the experience that we gained from last year from our seven returners,” Jillson said. “It’s the first game and we still have a lot of growing to do, but I was proud that they were put in that situation and responded.”
The Lady Tigers were held to 39 percent shooting from the floor, but Jillson still wants to see some improvement on defense.
“We have some work to do defensively,” Jillson said. “We know that. We can’t give up 72 points, especially on our own floor. [There were] a lot of free throws. We can’t foul 80 feet from the basket and give up free throws. I was proud for our first outing of the aggressive play that I saw and the execution.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.