Cowgirls get season’s first victory in SLC opener

Raymond Partsch III, Special to the American Press

McNeese State looked and played like a different team.

The Cowgirls entered Saturday’s Southland Conference opener having lost all seven of their games this season and had not played a game since a Dec. 19 tilt at No. 7 Baylor.

McNeese’s game at Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 21 was postponed and its Dec. 29 game at Grambling State was canceled.

Yet, the team that took the court inside Burton Coliseum looked neither rusty nor one that had lost 18 consecutive games dating to last season.

“I really felt the break was good for us,” said Cowgirls head coach Kacie Cryer. “When they came back on Monday they looked like a whole different team. We saw that today.”

That new-look McNeese team picked up its first victory with a 59-45 win over Central Arkansas (2-7, 0-1 SLC).

“A tremendous win for us,” Cryer said. “UCA is a very tough team. I thought we did a tremendous job on both sides, offensively and defensively. We held them to 15 in the first half and on offense we were very patient and we didn’t force very many.”

McNeese (1-7, 1-0) set the tone from tip-off as Shaela Gardner made a layup and then Kyla Hamilton added another layup off a turnover.

UCA responded when Lucy Ibeh scored down low to make it 4-2, but McNeese answered on the next possession. Claralee Richard drained a 3-pointer and moments later made a short jumper to extend McNeese’s lead to 9-2.

The Cowgirls led 14-6 after the first quarter.

McNeese never let its lead drop below nine points in the second quarter and after Le’Shenae Stubblefield’s layup with 18 seconds in the first half, the Cowgirls owned a 35-15 lead.

UCA managed to cut McNeese’s lead to nine three times in the fourth but the Cowgirls always responded with defensive stops.

The Cowgirls held the Sugar Bears to 29.4 percent shooting from the field, 12.5 from 3-point range and forced 32 turnovers which McNeese scored 23 points off.

“It finally came together,” Cryer said. “We have constantly worked on the same things. I thought our help-side defense was good. Our kids were able to execute the front-post defense early. Everybody did their job today. It wasn’t anything fancy.”

Hamilton led McNeese with a career-high 15 points and eight steals to go along with seven rebounds. Richard chipped in 13 points and Mychala Linzy had 11 points.

Not a single Sugar Bear reached double figures. Jayla Cody came off the bench to lead UCA with nine points.

“They are so excited right now,” Cryer said. “We’ve been through a lot. Grinding it out and the kids never gave up. I am so proud of them. I told them to not lose this feeling and to keep it going.”

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NOTES: The Cowgirls’ home game against Incarnate scheduled for Jan. 13 was rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 due to a positive COVID-19 test within the UIW program.McNeese State’s Kyla Hamilton shoots over Central Arkansas’ Jalisa Outlaw Saturday at Burton Coliseum. Hamilton scored a game-high 15 points.

Kirk Meche / Special to the American Press

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