Midland’s height advantage too much for Highland as the Lady Chaps roll, 77-56
LUBBOCK, Texas – Being the lowest seed in the field of 24, Highland (Ill.) College was hoping its quickness and 3-point shooting ability would be enough to offset the distinct size advantage presented by ninth-seeded Midland College.
But the Lady Cougars had no answer for sophomore forward Walnatia Wright. The 6-foot-2 Wright dominated inside to the tune of xxx points in leading the Lady Chaparrals to a 77-56 victory in the first round of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship on Monday at the Rip Griffin Center.
“It didn’t feel like I had 21 because our game kind of got messed up how we were playing,” said Wright, who also grabbed 14 rebounds. “I just let it get to my head and I wasn’t really playing right but I really wanted us to win and I just tried to make the best out of my shots.”
The Lady Chaps (27-6) advance to the second around where they will face No. 8 seed Walters (Tenn.) State at 4 p.m. CDT on Tuesday. In the end, that was the important thing for head coach Ron Jones.
“We definitely had a height advantage and I think maybe we should have used it more,” Jones said. “We really looked like we were playing the first game of the national tournament. I thought we were really sloppy and not in a very good place mentally. But we’re playing (Tuesday) and that’s what matters. We’ll get our heads cleared and get ready to go.”
Wright had help in the paint as Lisa Kaempf and Teneshia Dixon added 10 points each and Tichina Coleman chipped in 11. That was enough to help the Lady Chaps overcome 23 turnovers.
Highland couldn’t take advantage of those turnovers and finished the season at 21-11. After a rough start and injuries that depleted the team’s depth, head coach Erin Butler was proud with how the team played down the stretch.
Marissa Mandeldove led four Lady Cougars in double figures with 16 points. Adrianna Eaton added 13 while Daranesha Smith and Alysha Justin had 11 each.
Not until late in the first half did ether team build any kind of substantial lead. It was an 11-0 run, almost exclusively from Wright, that finally gave the Lady Chaparrals the upper hand.
The run started less than 2 minutes into the second quarter and Midland up by just two when Valentine Zambelli hit the first of her two 3-pointers in the period. Wright followed with a traditional three-point play, a jumper and a putback in about a two-minute span, pushing the Lady Chaps to a 35-22 lead.
Midland shot 40.5 percent (15 of 37) from the field in the first half and just 4 of 18 from the 3-point line. That allowed Highland to stay in the game despite shooting just 34.4 percent itself.
Wright finished the first half with nine points and six rebounds while Morgan Ashton added eight points and Zambelli and Kayla Bretherton had seven each.
The Lady Cougars chipped away at the lead and pulled within single digits at 37-28 with 2:34 left in the first half. Highland could have cut the lead down even further but missed three of four free-throw attempts within the final two minutes, and Midland responded with Zambelli’s second 3-pointer and a layup from Ashton to push the advantage to 42-29 at halftime.
Mandeldove led the Lady Cougars in the first half with 13 points.