By BRAD KEITH
ALLEN (March 4, 2017) — For the third time in five years, Tarleton State is in the women’s final of the Lone Star Conference Championship.
The TexAnns (15-13) led almost wire-to-wire in a 60-47 semifinal win over Texas A&M-Kingsville (14-14) Saturday evening at Allen Event Center, their third win over the Javelinas this season and 16th straight dating back to 2010.
Tarleton was led in its seventh semifinal appearance in eight years by Mackenzie Hailey with 15 points and eight boards and Ikpeaku Iwobi with 12 and 12. Tiara Tatum also scored 12 while grabbing five boards and dealing three assists.
“This is great – great or our fans to be able to be here and watch these girls play and great for our seniors and players to be here because they’ve earned it,” said Tarleton third-year head coach Misty Wilson, who has been in conference tournament finals as an assistant coach but never as a head coach. “Our schedule this year has been tough. These players have worked and grinded and fought through adversity and deserve this.”
Tarleton meets Angelo State in the final at 1 p.m. Sunday. The TexAnns won their only conference tournament title over Incarnate Word in 2013, and last reached the final in 2014, losing to West Texas A&M.
The TexAnns lost in overtime in San Angelo on January 7 and stunned the Rambelles in dramatic fashion in Stephenville on February 9. A full championship game preview will be posted tonight on TheFlashToday.com.
There were scary moments, especially in the final minutes of the third quarter, when TAMUK rallied to within two before a bucket by Iwobi pushed it to 42-38 entering the fourth. Iwobi, a senior, also had a key ‘And-1’ play following a big 3 by Wipff, also a senior, early in the final stanza.
“Throughout this tournament, you see our seniors being seniors and that was another instance,” said Wilson. “I didn’t draw that up, I can’t take credit for that. It was just Bailey making a play, and that’s what those girls have done all year for us.”
Hailey eventually pushed the lead back to double figures, making it 51-40 with 5:21 left on her own ‘And-1’ play plus the free throw.
Tiara Tatum stole the ball away on the ensuing Javelina possession, then assisted on a top of the key 3 by Hailey that put the TexAnns in control with a 54-40 lead.
“It was a close game so when I made (the 3) I thought it kind of sparked the momentum and got us going again so we could close it out,” said Hailey.
Meesha Wade answered with a quick 3 by the Javelinas, but they were down by at least 11 the rest of the way, and saw Tarleton take its largest lead, 60-44, on a bucket in the paint by Iwobi with less than a minute remaining.
“We’ve been there and done that, we’ve been through this before,” said Iwobi of herself and Wipff. “We’ve been down, we’ve been up, we just know what we need to do in the end.”
A&M-Kingsville was led by Tee Moore with 11 points, Kaylee Kana with 10 and Angelica Wilson with seven and nine boards.
The TexAnns shot just 36 percent but scored 24 points off 18 TAMUK turnovers and limited the Javelinas to just 33 percent shooting.
Tarleton led by as many as 11 in the third after being ahead by 13 earlier in the game, but the Javelinas used an 11-2 run to cut it to 40-38. The surge was the result primarily of struggles on the Tarleton end, as the TexAnns scored just two points over the final 4:26 of the third.
TAMUK, meanwhile, scored on a jumper by Wade, a 3 by Debose, free throws from Moore and an ‘And-1’ play plus the free throw by Kana.
Tarleton tried to run away early, scoring 11 straight after TAMUK netted the first two points of the game. The 11-2 lead grew to 18-5 by the end of the first quarter. The TexAnns scored 12 points off 10 Javelina turnovers in the first and Tiara Tatum hit two of Tarleton’s three 3-pointers in the quarter.
The turnovers limited the Javelinas to only six shot attempts in the opening quarter, and they made just one, a 3-pointer that cut it to 11-5. Tarleton scored the final seven points of the quarter before A&M-Kingsville got into the game in the second.
The Javelinas scored 13 of the first 18 points in the second, pulling within five before buckets by Tatum and Hailey pushed the Tarleton advantage to 27-18. It was 31-22 at half.
Tatum had eight and Hailey seven at intermission, when Wilson had seven points and seven boards for TAMUK.
The loss ends the Javelinas’ season after they upset top seeded Eastern New Mexico in the opening round of the tournament.