No. 15 Bronchos hold on for win at Washburn

UCO Sports
Chris Brannick, Director of Sports Media Relations

TOPEKA, Kan. – The University of Central Oklahoma women’s basketball team earned a hard fought, tough and grueling conference road win Saturday afternoon when the 15th-ranked Bronchos beat Washburn 62-60 in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association action at Lee Arena.

Central didn’t hit a jump shot in the final 2:28 following a Melinda Murillo field goal that put the Bronchos up 60-55. Blake Blessington added two free-throws with 1:32 to play. Then UCO turned to its dominant, suffocating defense to hang on for the win.

UCO forced a turnover on the next possession when Blessington stole the ball from Washburn’s Cara Donley. Madison Lee missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Washburn brought it to a two-point game, 62-60, following a layup from its high-scorer Reagan Phelon.

Murillo missed a three herself on the next UCO possession, and Washburn called a timeout with 16 seconds to play. In what has been a season of the Broncho defense saving many games for Central, it would be the same Saturday.

Phelon, who scored 13 points on the day, drove to the basket with 10 seconds left. But Lee’s defense, forced a loose ball. After a scramble, Washburn’s Alexis McAfee found herself with a 3-point shot at the top of the key with three seconds to play. Jo’Nah Johnson got a hand up, the shot clanked off the back-right side of the basket, and Central came away winners.

“I think we were fortunate today,” UCO head coach Guy Hardaker said. “Our defense was really good today and even though that last play was kind of a scramble, we were able to come away with a stop. I wouldn’t have wanted their best shooter to take the last shot from straight-away, but we were fortunate she didn’t knock it down. This is a good road win and I think it will help us, learning how to win in these tough situations.”

Murillo led the Bronchos Saturday with 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Johnson, Blessington, and Shatoya Bryson each scored 11, and Jesheon Cooper had four points, 11 rebounds, and one blocked shot.

Central Oklahoma shot 34 percent from the floor Saturday. It didn’t start that way.

UCO opened the game with a blistering offensive pace it showed during a recent nine-game win streak. The Bronchos scored 24 points in the first quarter behind 7 of 14 shooting and a nice 4 of 8 on 3-pointers. Adding six free-throws, Central built an early 24-14 lead.

The Bronchos cooled off in the second, but kept its lead. UCO was 4 of 17 in the quarter, but continued to use its high-pressure defense to keep Washburn out of rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

Central took a 33-21 lead into the halftime locker room thanks in part to balanced scoring. Seven different Bronchos scored in the first half, with Johnson leading the way with eight points. Johnson scored all eight of her points in the first quarter.

UCO’s offensive woes were highlighted in the third. The Bronchos missed their first seven shots from the floor. During the 4-minute, 10-second scoring drought to open the half, Washburn went on a 12-0 run to tie the game, 33-33.

Murillo knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:50 to play in the third to break the drought. Through it all, UCO never let Washburn take a lead in the quarter. The Ichabods tied it twice, including at the end of the quarter, 47-47.

Washburn took its first lead since early in the first quarter on the first possession of the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of free-throws. There would be four lead changes over the next four minutes. The last coming when Bryson knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:42 to play to give UCO a 56-53 lead.

Blessington put in one more layup to give UCO a 58-53 lead soon before Murillo’s jumper with 2:27 to play set off the game’s final events.

Central Oklahoma returns home following a short, two-game road trip through Kansas. The Bronchos will also have most of next week off. UCO doesn’t play again until hosting Northeastern State on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Hamilton Field House.