For three quarters, the McNeese State women's basketball team gave visiting Abilene Christian everything it could handle and more.
But in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were just too much for the Cowgirls, pulling away for the 90-73 victory, their eighth straight, on Wednesday night at the Health and Human Performance Complex.
The loss was McNeese's fourth in a row, but it was arguably the Cowgirls' best performance since Southland Conference play started.
"We went basket for basket right there," McNeese head coach Kacie Cryer said. "And when (ACU) went on runs, we countered. I really liked that … Credit Abilene, that's why they're a really good team, because they never got rattled, they never stopped.
Going up against the preseason favorite to win the SLC, McNeese (3-10, 0-4 SLC) didn't back down in the first half. Freshman Lizzy Ratcliff hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter and the defense did a solid job against a Wildcats offense that is one of the most prolific in the country.
But ACU forwards Dominique Golightly and Makayla Mabry showed why they're two of the best players on one of the best teams in the conference, scoring 24 of the Wildcats' 40 first half points. And ACU's length and size on defense did give McNeese trouble, forcing the Cowgirls to commit 12 first-half turnovers, which the Wildcats converted into 14 points.
In the second quarter, McNeese briefly took a one-point lead thanks to Kyla Hamilton 3-pointer, but ACU (12-1, 4-0) responded with a 3 on the ensuing possession to regain the lead. The Wildcats extended their lead to nine, their largest lead of the game, before McNeese ended the second quarter with three free throws to go into halftime down 40-34.
Although McNeese played a solid first half, the Cowgirls struggled from the free-throw line, shooting 9 of 18 in the first two quarters.
McNeese didn't go away to start the second half, as it opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to briefly take a 41-40 lead. The teams traded the lead a few times in the quarter before ACU got hot and hit a few 3s to take a 58-50 lead, its largest of the quarter
But, as was the theme for most of the game, the Cowgirls refused to go away. McNeese ended the quarter on a 6-0 run thanks to a Bre'Ashlee Jones layup plus the free throw since she was fouled. Regan Bolton banked in a 3 to beat the third-quarter buzzer and was mobbed by her teammates on the bench. ACU led McNeese 58-56 after three quarters.
Unfortunately for the Cowgirls, ACU's quality showed to start the fourth quarter, as it opened the final quarter with a 19-7 run to take a 77-63 lead, its largest of the game at that point. In the end, the Wildcats outscored McNeese 32-17 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
"We just lost some defensive assignments there in the fourth quarter where we left some people loose that you can't," Cryer said. "Every time we missed an assignment, Abilene Christian hit the shot. Credit them, but my goodness, our girls battled today."