You can chalk up the opening weekend for the College of the Ozarks women’s basketball team to a frustrating start, a promising finish and a learning experience moving forward.
The Lady Bobcats finished 1-1 at the Lady Bobcat Classic at Keeter Gymnasium, against a field that included some national-caliber elite teams on the NAIA level.
Concordia (Nebraska) came in as the top-ranked team in NAIA Division II and reigning national champions, with second-ranked and national runner-up Southeastern University (Lakeland, Florida), third-ranked C of O and No. 12 Sterling (Kansas) College.
After a 74-56 loss to Southeastern on Friday night, C of O rebounded with an 87-69 victory over Sterling on Saturday afternoon.
For C of O coach Becky Mullis, it was good for her team to have a short memory and a quick turnaround from the Friday night loss to the Saturday afternoon game.
“All of the things we did wrong, we can fix,” Mullis said. “We can work on it, and we just need to be teachable and coachable.
“I’m really happy with the weekend.”
Part of the learning process is seeing the combinations of players that work better than other groups on the floor.
“I think it could be somebody different every game,” Mullis said. “I thought today at different times, we had different lineups that worked well and went on runs. And we had different lineups that didn’t work as well.
“I’m figuring that out as we go along, just who plays well with each other – there are a lot of different combinations that we can throw out there.”
The biggest stretch for the Lady Bobcats came in the second quarter on Saturday, when they outscored Sterling, 29-15, to turn a 23-19 lead at the end of the first quarter into a 52-34 halftime lead.
Three-point plays from Michelle Gabani and Jordan Wersinger opened the quarter, and after Sterling rallied briefly, C of O went on a 21-9 run to end the half.
Ashley Forrest, Kyra Hardesty and Abby Oliver all drained 3-pointers in the early minutes of the second half, and freshman Kayley Frank went on personal run at the end of the third quarter to help keep C of O in control.
Frank scored on a baseline drive, then dished to Gabani for a layup and ended the quarter with a steal and coast-to-coast layup.
The Lady Bobcats led, 67-56, going into the fourth quarter, then kept the pressure on and answered every Sterling run to win going away.
Gabani came up big on both ends in the final quarter, grabbing an offensive rebound that led to a Forrest 3-pointer, making a nice pass into the low post for a Grace Steiger bucket, then scoring on a mid-range jump shot and on a drive to the basket to extend the lead to 18 points.
Steiger added a pair of baskets in the low post, then converted a layup on a feed from Hardesty. Aleksei Smith ended the barrage with a 3-pointer with a minute to play.
Oliver finished with a team-high 19 points – including 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range – and Steiger added a career-high 17 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
Gabani scored 12 points and Smith scored 11.
Southeastern took control in the second quarter on Friday night, outscoring C of O 44-24 over the second and third quarters to take control.
Oliver had 20 points and Hardesty scored 11 to lead the Lady Bobcats in the opener, but a team shooting showing of just 28.3 percent from the field was too much to overcome.
“I think yesterday was just a learning experience,” Steiger said. “The team gathered and regrouped, and we just fixed the little things that we messed up. We came back with our heads up and went back to work.”
Much of the preseason work has been about learning, as the Lady Bobcats are moving on with four new players on the roster and only two starters back from last year’s national quarterfinalists.
“I think it’s been going good,” Steiger said. “I don’t think there are any real superstars on this team, I think everything is pretty balanced as far as scoring and our roles and everything.”
One area Mullis will be focusing on is rebounding. C of O was outrebounded, 45-32, against Southeastern on Friday, and was minus-eight in rebounding through three quarters on Saturday before a strong showing in the final quarter gave them a 36-35 edge on the boards.
“We’ll go to work on them this week – I think rebounding is on the top of that list,” Mullis said. “We didn’t box out well all weekend.
“We’ve got to really go to work on rebounding.”
The Lady Bobcats will have this week off, hosting the second annual Angela Mallonee Garbee Lady Cat Alumni Game at 7 p.m. Friday at Keeter Gymnasium.
The C of O women will then be back in action on Tuesday night, hosting rival Evangel at 5:30 p.m. in the first of a home-and-home series with the Springfield school.