The No. 8 Howard Payne Lady Jackets on Saturday continued their early season trend of saving their best performances for their toughest opponents. The three-time defending American Southwest Conference champions picked up their second victory over the No. 21 UT-Dallas Lady Comets in three weeks, capturing a 76-61 conference win at the Brownwood Coliseum.
Though the Lady Jackets (6-0, 4-0) still have 17 conference games and 19 overall contests remaining on their schedule, HPU’s wins over UT-Dallas could go a long way toward determining its NCAA tournament fate in March.
“When I set up the schedule this year, I knew how important South Region wins were,” said HPU head coach Josh Prock. “(UT-Dallas) Coach Polly Thomason lets us into their tournament and I felt like we had a chance to get that win, and then I knew they were coming here and we could get this win. The NCAA tournament depends a lot on wins over quality opponents, and we got two really good ones the last couple of weeks.”
Howard Payne bounced back from a 26 percent shooting performance in Thursday’s 51-49 home win over Ozarks by hitting 49 percent (26-of-53) of its field goal attempts against UT-Dallas (5-2, 3-1).
The Lady Jackets focused more on getting the ball inside as forwards Elaine Hobbs and Roshonda Gayden led the charge with 16 and 14 points, respectively. HPU’s solid shooting in the paint also helped the team overcome a 38-29 disadvantage in rebounding.
“We emphasized in practice Friday to get the ball inside first, then out,” Prock said. “That’s going to create a lot more open shots and get us a higher percentage. The girls did a really good job getting the ball inside today.”
Hobbs converted 6-of-9 field goals — including both her three-point attempts — while Gayden was 7-of-10 from the floor.
“We knew we couldn’t win today playing the way we did Thursday,” Hobbs said. “We did a lot of offensive drills in practice Friday and tried to get things back together the way they are supposed to be working.
“We haven’t been getting the ball inside as much lately and Coach really stressed that at practice and the percentage of making shots inside rather than outside. We have really good posts and if we can get them the ball, they usually score. He just told us to get the ball inside and it worked out.”
Katy Sarem chipped in nine points for the Lady Jackets, followed by eight each from Tiffany Warner — who also drilled two three-pointers — and Hope Hohertz, seven points from Kayla Scott, six points each from Brittany Zamora and Clarissa Krum, and two points from Abby Parmelly.
Kori Joyce scored 12 points off the bench to lead the Lady Comets, followed by 11 points apiece from Chelsea Edwards and Rachel Addison.
Defensively, the Lady Jackets limited UT-Dallas to just 30 percent (8-of-27) shooting in the first half and did not allow the Lady Comets to break the 30-point barrier until 12:52 remained in the contest.
“We knew we had to get it done on defense. That’s what we’re all about,” Hobbs said. “We know if we do a good job on defense, normally it helps us on the offensive end.”
The Lady Jackets relied on a pair of spurts to end the first half and start the second to provide them with their double-digit cushion.
After UT-Dallas had trimmed an eight-point HPU lead to two points, 21-19, at the 2:20 mark of the first half, Krum hit a pair of free throws, then two steals from Gayden resulted in buckets by Parmelly and Gayden to stretch the Lady Jacket edge to 27-19 with 28 seconds left in the opening half.
Leading 27-21 at halftime, the Lady Jackets scored the first six points of the second half and went on a 15-5 opening run to establish a 42-26 advantage with 14:03 left in the contest.
Hohertz — who did not attempt a shot in the first half — scored the first bucket and later added two free throws, while Zamora added a layup for a 33-21 lead 1:21 into the second half.
UT-Dallas managed just a free throw and two buckets over the next 5:01 as HPU increased its lead thanks to four points from Krum, two each from Sarem and Hobbs and a free throw from Hohertz.
The Lady Comets got back within single digits, 42-33, with 12:08 left on a bucket by Addison, but came no closer.
Howard Payne stretched the lead back to 13 points, 53-40, on a trey by Warner with 7:58 left, and the Lady Jackets led by no fewer than 11 points the rest of the contest.
The Lady Jackets — the only ASC West team without a conference loss — are off until Saturday when they host Sul Ross (1-6, 1-3) at 1 p.m. in their first West division game of the season. Sul Ross defeated Ozarks, 68-63, on Saturday.
“It feels good to be 6-0 and it’s always better to win than lose, but we’re still going to keep teaching these girls,” Prock said. “There’s a lot of things we still have to work on after today, and we will, and we’ll get better.”