Teddy's Take: @LATechWBB can’t get in gear in the Ford Center
March 8, 2018
FRISCO, Texas — Opportunity came calling on Louisiana Tech Thursday, but it took the Lady Techsters 25 minutes to get up and answer the door.
By then, an upstart won’t-take-no-for-an-answer North Texas team, which doesn’t realize it’s an 11 seed, was calmly free throwing its way down the stretch of a 76-69 victory over No. 3-seed Tech in the quarterfinal round of the Conference USA Tournament.
It’s the Mean Green’s second upset in two days; they knocked off No. 6 Charlotte, 58-55, and that after losing their last three games of the regular season. Tech had won three straight, four straight on the road. Play-by-play man Malcolm Butler noted earlier this week that Tech is 4-0 since Feb. 1 against UTEP, Middle Tennessee, UAB and Rice; the rest of the league is 9-42 against that bunch.
But this same group lost in mid-February to Charlotte, 64-51, in Ruston, which might be why Tech head coach Brook Stoehr said earlier this week that this team has been “consistent in its inconsistency.”
Thursday’s game was pretty much a blueprint of that. North Texas came out playing as if its hair was on fire, made most everything they put up — they shot 54 percent from the field in the first half and a Tech comeback-killing 25-of-28 from the line for the game — to build a 28-18 lead 13 minutes in; they pushed it to 41-29 by halftime.
“There wasn’t a lot to us in the first half,” Stoehr said.
Even in a place called the Ford Center, Tech just couldn’t get up to speed.
And on International Women’s Day, too. Bummer.
“I think we were kind of shocked,” said Lady Techster sophomore Anna McCleod, “that we didn’t come out punching.”
It didn’t help that North Texas, a 61-53 loser in Ruston in January, wouldn’t play to script.
“All I saw was fight, energy, and wild effort,” said Mean Green coach Jalie Mitchell of her team, now 17-13 with a date Friday against No.2-seed Western Kentucky. “All we wanted to do today, we accomplished. We out-rebounded them (35-28), and they’re a good rebounding team. And we earned the opportunity to compete again tomorrow.”
It would be five minutes into the second half before Tech could put the fire out and set themselves up for a realistic chance at being able to say the same thing Mitchell was saying. But if the game wasn’t lost in the first 20 minutes of the game, it was lost in the first two minutes of the second half.
Trailing 41-29, Tech missed a layup, gave up three layups, and turned the ball over three straight times as the Mean Green extended the lead to 50-31.
Then the Tech that had won its most recent four road games showed up, and in a big way. They call Reauna Cleaver “Sweets,” and she was just that in the heart of the third quarter with three buckets down low. Alexus Malone, Tech’s first-team All-Conference player and the team’s only senior, was just about unstoppable: she finished with a game-high 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Tech was forcing some turnovers off its press and would win that battle, 14-12.
The Lady Techsters even cut the lead to four, 69-65, with 54 seconds left.
But here was the problem. Tech had to begin fouling with about two minutes to go and knocking on the door of the lead — but North Texas wouldn’t miss its free throws. Terriell Bradley was 8-of-8 and Trena Mims was 9-of-9 for the game; the team sank 13-of-14 in the final two minutes.
“We were clutch,” Mitchell said. “We cut practice short today to shoot free throws; glad we did.”
And because of what had happened in the game’s first 38 minutes, the Lady Techsters had to be perfect in the final two. It’s hard to play two minutes of perfect basketball: Tech had a shot blocked, missed a free throw, missed a three try, and took too much time to score on one possession.
The door closed, with Tech (19-11, 10-6) on the outside of the C-USA and NCAA Tournaments looking in. Stoehr didn’t expect a flat early effort but wasn’t shocked by either that or the way the team fought back.
“Even when we don’t play well or I’m frustrated at how we compete, I still like this group,” she said as her team prepared for the tournament earlier this week. “They have respect for each other and what we’re trying to do as a group. They’ve eliminated outside noise and individual attitudes.
“When they bring energy on both ends of the floor,” she said, “they’re so much more of a complete team.”
The Lady Techsters have no more chances to do that in the 2018 C-USA Tournament. Maybe they’ll get the chance in the 2018 National Invitation Tournament. We’ll know Monday.
Will the energetic, play-for-40-minutes Lady Techsters be at the game? You won’t know that until the final whistle.
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