Young and inexperienced teams are supposed to fold when down by double digits on the road and just realize they will have a chance to fight another day. That wasn’t the case for the Weber State University women’s basketball team this past weekend as it overcame a 14-point deficit late in the game to defeat Northern Arizona University.
Kalie Matthews made a free throw with 0.2 seconds left to seal the comeback and beat the Lumberjacks. The 74-73 win was the third victory in the past five games for the Wildcats and brought their record to 7-20 overall, 3-15 in conference play. The win was the first conference road win for WSU since February 2010 and first road win since November 2010.
Facing adversity not only in the game, some players had to wear different jerseys, as some of their luggage was sent elsewhere. The players hung together and closed a game where many teams would have packed it in.
“The kids played really good tonight, especially with four players in double figures,” said WSU head coach Bethann Ord. “Our kids are relentless; they’re just working hard until the end. Even though we might have been down for most of the game, they never stopped believing that we could come back and win.”
Of those four Wildcats in double figures, Jalen Carpenter scored a team-high 14 points, while pulling down a crucial seven rebounds. As the season has progressed, so has Carpenter’s play. She has established herself as one of the more feared bigs in the conference.
Matthews added 13 points and seven rebounds, none being more important than the last free throw that sunk the Lumberjacks.
“It was a close game, but I feel our bench really brought the energy for us in the end,” Carpenter said. “It feels good to get the win, just because we have had struggled closing out games. But we are getting a new identity.”
The Wildcats trailed 14 with less than five minutes left in the game, and that was when the madness began. As WSU started to chip away at the lead, the Lumberjacks seemed uneasy, which allowed the Wildcats to cause turnovers.
A Regina Okoye jumper brought the Wildcats within one, 72-71. The Wildcats were able to get the ball back, and on that possession, Carlee Lough was fouled and made her free throws, which gave WSU a lead of 73-72. After allowing the Lumberjacks to tie the game, the Wildcats had the last chance to win it in regulation, which led to the ball going out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left.
Ord decided to put in Matthews because she would be able to get up in the air if needed. After a few picks, Matthews found some space for a mid-range jumper that was well contested, but just too much, as contact was made.
“The last play is kind of like an alley-oop play for me,” Matthews said. “But I had a defender, so I just made sure that I made contact and got the call.”
Matthews sank the first free throw, giving the Wildcats the lead for good, 74-73. The second bounced off the rim and the horn sounded as the Wildcats stormed the court to greet Matthews and her teammates.
“I don’t get that nervous; I practice free throws every day at practice,” Matthews said. “I got into my zone and knocked down the first. I knew it would be better if I missed the second, just so time could run out. I knew that I was going to get at least one of them.”
The Wildcats will return to the Dee Events Center for their final two games of the season as they face Portland State University on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Senior Day game will be against Eastern Washington University at 2 p.m. on Saturday.