Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Top-ranked NLR barely escapes Cabot

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls came oh so close to knocking off top-ranked and No. 18 nationally ranked North Little Rock in the 7A/6A-East Conference opener Friday night at Panther Arena, but the Lady Charging Wildcats made just enough plays in overtime to escape Lonoke County with a 44-40 win.

Cabot trailed the state’s top-ranked girls by 12 at halftime, but made it a five-point game by the end of the third quarter, trailing 33-28.

The Lady Panthers tied the game at 37 on a steal and fast-break layup by senior guard Danielle McWilliams with 4:11 left in regulation, and Cabot took a 39-37 lead on a Leighton Taylor steal and transition bucket by CoCo Calhoon with 1:10 to play.

However, University of Arkansas commit Malica Monk answered with a lane-penetrating bucket on the ensuing possession, tying the game at 39. After getting the ball past half court, Cabot held for the final shot, and got the ball to McWilliams, who had the hot hand throughout the second half.

McWilliams drove the ball down the baseline and went for a layup in the final seconds, but with two seconds remaining, Monk stole the ball and dribbled out of the lane as time expired, sending the game to overtime with the score tied at 39.

North Little Rock struck first in OT with an and-1 by 6-foot-4 center Brogan Jones with 2:50 remaining. That made the score 42-39 NLR.

Cabot senior post Alyssa Hamilton returned to the game with 90 seconds left in overtime. She suffered an ankle injury with 2:52 left in regulation that forced her out of the game.

Even with Hamilton back on the floor, Cabot didn’t score until there was just 27.6 seconds left in overtime. The Lady Panthers scored their first and only point of OT on an Anna Sullivan free throw, which made the score 42-40 NLR.

Sullivan made the first of a two-shot foul, but McWilliams chased down the rebound on the miss. McWilliams dribbled out near the home bench, and attempted a 3-pointer from the corner, but the shot fell just short, hitting the front of the rim.

North Little Rock got the rebound and got the ball to Monk, who was then fouled with 15.7 seconds remaining.

Already in the double bonus, Monk made both free throws to seal the game in the Lady Charging Wildcats’ favor. It also set the final score. Cabot attempted a desperation three on the game’s final possession, and that shot fell way short, ending the game.

Cabot lost 55-44 to the same NLR team in the finals of the annual Heavenly Hoops Tournament at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock on Nov. 22.

The Lady Panthers battled in both games, and actually had a chance to get the upset win at the end of regulation Friday, but despite Friday’s loss, the Cabot coaches were pleased overall with the way their team played.

“We played real well,” said Cabot assistant coach Charles Ruple. “We were two down at the half at St. Mary and got beat by 11. We were down 12 today (Friday). We wanted to get it down to one or two (points) there at the end, and we had a chance to beat them at the end. But the kids played exceptionally.

“They played very smart. We did some subtle things that we worked on the last two or three days. We made some big plays. They missed some shots. We missed some shots, but it was a good game.”

North Little Rock led 13-11 at the end of the first quarter, and began to separate itself in the second. The Lady Cats’ first double-digit lead came on a long two from the corner by Kyra Collier with 3:01 left in the opening half that made the score 24-14.

Collier later set the halftime margin, 26-14, on a pair of free throws with 1:21 remaining in the second period. Cabot’s momentum shift began in the third period.

Cabot opened the second half with consecutive buckets by McWilliams, and with 4:13 to play in the third quarter, McWilliams made it a three-point game, 29-26, with a pair of free throws.

McWilliams also set the third-quarter margin at 33-28 on a putback with one second remaining after a missed three by Calhoon.

Sullivan scored the opening bucket of the fourth quarter on a tough left-handed lay-in off the glass. With 4:28 to play, Cabot got within two of NLR’s lead on an and-1 by McWilliams that made the score 37-35. On the ensuing possession, McWilliams got the steal and fast-break layup that tied the game at 37.

McWilliams was guarded by Monk throughout the second half, and outplayed the UA commit, as the Cabot guard scored 13 of her game-high 14 points in that time. Monk was held to just three points in the second half.

McWilliams also grabbed five of her game-high seven rebounds in the third and fourth quarters.

“She played very well,” Ruple said of McWilliams. “Now she played sporadic early. She sat out for a little while in the first half, but she came back and she got settled down, and she played really well in the second half.”

In the four-and-a-half quarters played, Cabot finished 15 of 40 from the floor for 38 percent. North Little Rock made 13 of 46 shots for 28 percent. The Lady Cats made all three 3-pointers in the game, and made more shots at the free-throw line as well.

The Lady Cats made 15 of 21 free throws for 71 percent. Conversely, Cabot went 10 for 13 from the stripe for 77 percent. Cabot outrebounded NLR 28-24, but the Lady Cats won the turnover battle 14-26.

Other than McWilliams, Cabot’s Sullivan also scored in double figures. She had 11 points and added six rebounds. Calhoon scored eight points. Hamilton scored four. Sarah Davis scored two for Cabot and Taylor added one.

Collier led NLR (13-1, 1-0) with 13 points. She was the only Lady Cat to score in double figures.

The Lady Panthers (12-4, 0-1) continued 7A/6A-East play last night at Marion after deadlines, and they’ll play another conference game Friday at home against West Memphis. Friday’s game at Panther Arena will tip-off at 6 p.m.