Historic season, careers of ACU seniors end in WNIT second round
DALLAS, TX - The defining, groundbreaking era of Abilene Christian DI women's basketball reached its completion Monday night at SMU's Moody Coliseum where the Mustangs prevailed over the Wildcats and their celebrated senior class, 59-52, in the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Tonight's loss goes down as one in the record book, but its impact is fivefold, bringing an end not only to a championship season but the careers of four indispensable talents: Lizzy and Suzzy Dimba, Alexis Mason and Sydney Shelstead.
This class led the Wildcats to consecutive Southland Conference Championships and WNIT appearances - an amazing accomplishment for a team in transition from D2 to D1 athletics - but for the Mustangs, reaching the postseason is commonplace and they relied on that experience (and the nation's 12th-best defense) to silence the Wildcats' offense for the better part of two and a half quarters.
"Our biggest problem was our inability to hit shots," said Goodenough, "otherwise we played pretty well against a really good SMU team. Our team was bouncing off the walls all day, and while I normally encourage that kind of enthusiasm, I thought it might hurt us tonight. Sure enough we were really flat in the first half. The second half was much different for us, and we were able to give all of the fans who came to see us something to watch."
It was 46-20 Mustangs shortly after the third quarter media timeout was taken, but the Wildcats soon took off on a 10-0 run in a span of less than four minutes. The first eight of these points were scored by Mason on two 3-pointers and two free throws. Lexi Kirgan was then fouled with 23 seconds left and hit two freebies as well.
ACU's defense continued to clamp down on SMU in the opening moments in the fourth quarter, and after Suzzy Dimba's basket at 6:41 made it a 12-point game at 46-34, SMU head coach Travis Mays called a timeout to electrify a very pro-Wildcat crowd of 1,210.
ACU sent two buses full of faculty, staff and students from Abilene for tonight's game and they were met by many more alumni in Highland Park hoping to catch at least one last look at the team that helped solidify the school's mission in becoming a recognized D1 program.
"I'm not sure what exactly was said but I think it was something along the lines of 'Get rid of those sad faces and just play," said Suzzy Dimba of her team's late comeback effort. 'These people came out to see you play, so let's give something to get excited about.' "
The crowd further went into a frenzy following a turnover and 3-pointer by Alexis Mason that cut SMU's lead into single digits at the 1:12 mark (50-43). But a second attempt at a full court-press led to a tipped ball and fast-break layup by Kiara Perry with just under a minute to go. Perry was subsequently fouled on the play, and her free throw gave the Mustangs a 10-point lead once more.
ACU made a couple baskets down the stretch to keep pace, including a 3-pointer by Breanna Wright, but the Mustangs capitalized on their situation by making five of their last free throw attempts as the Wildcats were forced to foul to stay in game.
Even though the Wildcats hit a couple of treys in the second half, they missed 30 (6-36, .167) on the night and only shot 27 percent (17-63) from the field overall. Mason led all scorers with 20 points and hit four 3-pointers to finish with the third most in Southland Conference history at 306.
Suzzy Dimba was second on the team with 11 points and added to that six rebounds, two blocks and six steals. She ranks fifth all-time at ACU with 965 rebounds and just missed the school's top-10 scorers list with 1,447 points. The Lubbock native also moved into sixth among all Southland career leaders with 194 blocks.
Lizzy Dimba played all but one minute tonight, scoring seven points with five rebounds with four assist, while Sydney Shelstead contributed seven points and six rebounds in 26 minutes of play.
SMU's offense alternated between hot and cold, shooting just over 40 percent (21-52) with a couple of timely 3-pointers (5-16) and a 12-of-15 performance from the free-throw line. The Mustangs started strong in the paint and used 16 offense rebounds to score 15 second-chance points, but helped ACU climb back into the contest by turning the ball over 25 times that led to 35 Wildcat points.
SMU additionally used its height advantage to outrebound ACU, 45-33 - 29 of which were off the defensive glass.
Three Mustangs scored in double figures led by Morgan Bolton with 15 points. McKenzie Adams totaled 12 and Perry tallied 11. SMU's bigs Alicia Froling (6-3) and Stephanie Collins (6-6) combined for 15 rebounds, 14 points and four blocks.
Much like Thursday night at Oklahoma State, the home team started fast by making four of its first five field goal attempts to grab a 9-3 lead. The Wildcats, however, would make four straight stops (three turnovers and a block), and a 3-pointer by Suzzy Dimba at the 4:34 mark made it a one-point game at 9-8.
Unfortunately, ACU's offensive momentum was short lived as the Wildcats missed their remaining eight field goals of the first quarter and were outscored, 11-6, throughout the second quarter.
The Mustangs began the second quarter on an 8-2 run with back-to-back field goals by Collins that pushed SMU's advantage to 25-12. Sierra Allen then broke a four-minute ACU scoreless streak with her layup at 3:18, but the Mustangs answered with a 3-pointer by Bolton and stops on five of ACU's last six possessions of the half.
Suzzy Dimba scored the final bucket for either team with 1:12 left in the first half after making a steal that led to a fast-break bucket. SMU would miss its final attempt, but the Wildcats couldn't do anything with their final possession as the Mustangs' defense proved overly stingy.
"Shots just weren't falling," said Mason. "The shots we were taking weren't any different than the ones we take every day in practice, but they just weren't dropping for us."
"We came into the game with a lot of confidence after the win at Oklahoma State," added Suzzy Dimba, "and I think if we had made shots this would have been a different game."
So while SMU plans now to play at Indiana Thursday night, the Wildcats will continue their work to ensure that all which has been gained over the past four years will not soon be lost.
ACU is expected to bring back its entire roster starting with Wright. The Wildcats will additionally be equipped with point guard in Pamela Herrera, plus they have another long-distance threat in Dominique Golightly, and an unheralded defender in Williamson, who averaged close to a steal per game while averaging 16.0 minutes off the bench.
Sierra Allen will look to go out on top as the lone senior for the 2017-18 team. She set career season bests across several categories this year and averaged 8.8 points per game during non-conference play. Allen once again will be joined in the post by centers Taudenciah Oluoch (6-foot-3) and Kirgan (6-foot-4).
Alyssa Adams, Kayla Galindo, Josie Larson and Laura Rowe are coming up to join the team this summer from the high school ranks. Adams is a 6-foot forward, while the other three are listed as guards. The program may also scour the junior college ranks to find a player or two this offseason as they did last spring with Oluoch.
The Wildcats finished their season at 23-9 (.719) with many of those victories attributed to the seniors, who in their final tally won 84 games for ACU with 5,740 points, 537 3-pointers, 3,054 rebounds, 899 assists, 335 blocks, 728 steals.
While many fans were here tonight to cheer on their beloved Wildcats, there will be an on-campus event the night of Sunday, April 9 to give this cherished senior class a proper sendoff when the team will host its second-annual awards banquet. The event will take place at the Williams Performing Arts Center at 5 p.m.
More details will be announced in the coming days.
-Information provided by ACU Athletics