Season ends, HBU sends Cowgirls home

Jim Gazzolo, Special for the American Press

Unable to find their shooting touch, the McNeese State Cowgirls’ stay at the Southland Conference Tournament was short-lived.

Hot shooting from beyond the 3-point arc and solid defense led Houston Baptist to a 74-60 victory Wednesday at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.

HBU (11-10) moved on to play Central Arkansas today in the second round.

“Every time we tried to make a run back, they were able to make shots,” said McNeese head coach Kacie Cryer. “They hit more shots than we did. Give them credit.”

The Cowgirls (6-16), who finished their fifth consecutive losing season with six straight losses, found themselves in a game, down 36-33, after Mychala Linzy hit a 3-pointer to open the second half. That’s when the Huskies took over. Julija Vujakovic hit a trio of treys during a 9-2 run that became part of a 16-5 spurt that put the game away.

By the end of the quarter HBU owned a 57-40 lead.

Most of that was without Cowgirl Divine Tanks, who was saddled with foul trouble after intermission.

“That hurt us and we rushed some shots,” Cryer said. “Divine is a big part of our offense and with her out, we lost our rhythm.”

Vujakovic’s shooting was the key, as she scored a season-high 20, hitting 5 of 7 shots beyond the arc.

“I just didn’t overthink it today and shot the ball with confidence,” Vujakovic said.

N’Denasija Collins added 18 points and 13 rebounds while Timia Jefferson had 16. McNeese was led by Linzy’s 14 points with Sulphur’s Claralee Richard adding 10.

The Cowgirls struggled from the field, hitting 32.3 percent (21-65) of their shots.

“We executed and made some really good decisions, but ultimately our defense led us today,” said HBU head coach Donna Finnie. “We wanted to close out fast on their shooters.”

The Huskies started to take control during a stretch at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. During that time they went on a 13-2 run, with only a layup by Le’Shenae Stubblefield giving McNeese points.

Vujakovic and Jefferson led the way, scoring all of the HBU points. Jefferson had eight as HBU took a 25-15 lead. McNeese closed the margin to 36-30 at the half as Richard scored five points in the final 48 seconds.

It was a long season for McNeese, which suffered through a shortened fall due to two hurricanes and had a COVID-19 stoppage after getting off to a fast 4-0 start in the conference after an 0-7 start. Once they returned, the offense struggled to get back in the groove.

“It was tough to get into a rhythm,” said Cryer, who was in the last year of her contract. “It played a factor but we never said it.

“Our kids have been through a lot this year. We lived in Baton Rouge for 64 days, had two hurricanes and an ice storm, played a game in front of no fans, but we never quit.”McNeese State junior guard Mychala Linzy drives to the basket as she’s defended by Houston Baptist’s N’Denasija Collins during a Southland Conference Tournament game Wednesday in Katy, Texas.

Erik Williams / Special to the American Press

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