Chris Brannick, Director of Sports Media Relations
EDMOND – The University of Central Oklahoma women’s basketball team clinched a first-round bye in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association postseason tournament with an 87-86 win over Emporia State on Saturday afternoon at Hamilton Field House in the final game of the regular season.
Central Oklahoma earned the No. 4 seed in next week’s tournament and will play Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo. at historic Municipal Auditorium against the winner of fifth-seeded Nebraska-Kearney and 12th-seeded Missouri Western, which play Monday night in Kearney. UCO has never earned a first-round bye in this its sixth season in the MIAA.
“I just want to say how proud of the team I am,” UCO head coach Guy Hardaker said after the game. “This game certainly did play out how we wanted giving up such a big lead, but we got out of here with a win. For these guys to play as well as the did this week against two really good teams was big. They played like they wanted to win and get that first-round bye and I’m really proud of that.”
Central led by as many as 25 points Saturday, playing a dominant a first-half on both ends of the court.
Melinda Murillo knocked down a 3-pointer 13 seconds into the game, and after a slight back-and-forth over the first five minutes, the Bronchos began to run like a well-oiled machine. The Bronchos trailed 9-8 with 5:50 to go, but then built a double-digit lead on a pair of free-throws from Lauren Chancellor with 30 seconds left in the quarter to go up 21-11.
Murillo scored eight first-quarter points, and Blake Blessington added six.
Jo’Nah Johnson drained a 3-pointer 20 seconds into the second quarter and the surge continued for the Bronchos. Jesheon Cooper would score eight of the next 10 points to help put the Bronchos up 35-16. UCO’s biggest lead of the game came when Johnson knocked down a pair of free-throws with 1:20 to play in the quarter to make it 50-25 UCO.
Emporia chiseled the lead down to 20 at the half with a 7-0 run. And out of the locker room in the third quarter, began quite the quest toward a comeback.
The Hornets outscored the Bronchos 23-19 in the third quarter to make it 71-55. UCO still led 82-62 at the fourth-quarter media timeout before Emporia turned it up a few more notches.
The Hornets went on a 12-0 run, and outscored the Bronchos 24-5 in the final five minutes of the game. A 3-pointer by Emily Miller at the buzzer though made it 87-86 and UCO escaped with a win that appeared for the majority of the game to be cake-walk.
Murillo led the Bronchos with 22 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. Johnson scored 17 points and added three assists and a steal. And Jesheon Cooper scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and came up with two steals.
Ireon Smith scored nine off the bench for the Bronchos. Blessington, and Madison Lee each scored eight.
The Bronchos knocked down 7 of 22 3-pointers Saturday. Murillo and Johnson each put home two, Blessington and Lee added one, as did Shatoya Bryson, who finished with five points.
Central Oklahoma now heads to Kansas City. The Bronchos last season went to the MIAA Championship game, where it lost to Emporia State. UCO is 6-4 in four appearances in the tournament since joining the league in 2012.