San Antonio – No matter how out of synch the Lady Rattlers’ offense got Tuesday night, they knew there was one vehicle that could help pull them out of their funk.
“Coach (Jason Martens) was getting on us,” forward Kristen Williams recalled, “saying, ‘I don’t care how bad our offense is, we just have to stop them from scoring.'”
Stop them they did, coming up with the biggest defensive stop of the night as time expired to beat Abilene Christian 50-49 at Bill Greehey Arena.
Liz Boyd (So., San Antonio) had a jumper rim out with 10 seconds left, leaving the Wildcats a chance to win the game at the buzzer. But Williams (Sr., Kansas City, Mo.) and the Rattlers defended Mack Lankford’s runner with about four seconds left, forcing it to draw iron. Williams then hauled in the rebound, hugging the ball until time expired to seal the victory.
Nicole James’ (Jr., Indianapolis) two free throws with 1:03 remaining proved the difference, while Mareta Bailey (Sr., Grand Prairie, Texas) had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds to help St. Mary’s improve to 3-2 on the year.
“We knew we were playing pretty bad,” said Williams, who added 14 points and seven rebounds. “We had to find that extra energy, that extra boost. We just had to find a way to win.”
Abilene Christian flustered St. Mary’s offense with a zone defense, forcing the Rattlers to adjust on the fly. But that was easier said than done, as St. Mary’s endured a stretch during the thick of the second half where it totaled three points in nearly eight minutes.
The Rattlers’ saving grace? They allowed just five points over that same sequence, clinging to a 46-43 deficit with just over six minutes left.
That’s when Bailey got going on the offensive end, sinking a pair of foul shots with 6:01 left, cutting the deficit to 46-45. She made two more free throws with 4:55 remaining, giving the Rattlers their first lead since the 15-minute mark.
That score held for nearly two minutes, until Abilene Christian’s Cecilee Perez sank a jumper with 2:25 left to even the score at 48-48, and Kelsey Smith followed with a foul shot at the 1:28 mark to regain the lead.
But James delivered with just over a minute remaining, and the Rattlers’ defense quickly did the same on the other end – just like it had done all night.
“It was very symbolic of the game,” Williams said of the finish mirroring the Rattlers’ game-long defensive approach. “When I saw the shot go up, I was like, ‘I don’t care what happens, I have got get this rebound.’ I was grabbing and holding on to it.”
St. Mary’s next plays in the University of Southern Indiana’s Women’s Basketball Thanksgiving Classic, facing Bellarmine University on Saturday in Evansville, Ind.