No. 16 UCO blows out ECU in non-conference matchup

UCO Sports
Chris Brannick, Director of Sports Media Relations

EDMOND – An offensive onslaught from Melinda Murillo, and a stingy defensive effort up and down the Broncho lineup helped No. 16 Central Oklahoma beat East Central 94-46 Saturday afternoon at Hamilton Field House in the final non-conference game of the season for the Bronchos.

Murillo scored a game-high 32 points, matching the senior point guard’s career-high set earlier this season, on a blistering 11 of 16 shooting night to pace the Bronchos to their 14th consecutive win over East Central. Murillo hit 5 of 6 threes and added five free throws.

“We spent most of the first two months of the season talking about our defense because we really haven’t had the best offensive flow yet this year,” UCO head coach Guy Hardaker said. “Our offense always starts with Melinda, and you can see how well we play when she’s knocking her shots down. It made everybody better. I really think she’s one of the best players in the country and she showed that today.”

Murillo missed a jump shot 10 seconds into the game, but wouldn’t let that be a determining factor in how Saturday afternoon was going to play out. After East Central’s leading scorer Devon Branch knocked down a 3-pointer, Murillo did the same to tie the game 3-3 with 9:01 to play in the first quarter.

The teams went back-and-forth for the first half of the opening quarter. Murillo though pushed the Bronchos ahead. She hit her second three to make it 10-7, UCO. Then after a Blake Blessington three gave the Bronchos the lead again, 13-10, Murillo sank another from deep to make it 16-10.

Central never trailed again.

Murillo, after missing her first shot, made her next four in the first, including a perfect 3 of 3 from deep to put the Bronchos up 20-15 after one.

Central led by as many as 25 in the second thanks to a huge spurt by Murillo, when she scored 13 straight for the Bronchos.

Murillo scored on a layup with just over six minutes to play, and added a free-throw after being fouled on the play, to put UCO up 34-18. She sank her fourth 3-pointer on the next possession, added a pair of free throws moments later, knocked down a jumper and sank her fifth 3-pointer of the game – on five attempts – with 2:58 to play. That made it 45-22, UCO.

She facilitated much of the third quarter, and only played a minute of the final frame before exiting with 32. Murillo’s career-high 32 points is tied for eighth-most in school history. She became the sixth player to score 32 in one game in the season-opener last month.

Blessington also had a big game for the Bronchos, and didn’t play the fourth quarter. The junior guard scored 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting. She hit three 3-pointers. To round out her game, Blessington added 10 rebounds and six assists, as well as two steals.

Jesheon Cooper did not post a double-double Saturday, though her 12-point, 6-rebound performance was still just as crucial to a free-flowing offense for the Bronchos. Cooper added four blocked shots.

Every player Hardaker had on the bench he used, and every player scored. It’s the first time this season that both occurred for Central.

Megan Hartness scored eight for the Bronchos off the bench. Jo’Nah Johnson, Erin Gray, and Shatoya Bryson each scored five. Megan Womack added four, Taylor O’Dell and Lauren Chancellor each knocked down late threes and finished with three points, and Madison Lee and Sadie Mason each scored two. Ireon Smith’s layup with 34 seconds left put every Broncho on the board.

UCO improves to 12-1 with the win and wraps up non-conference play with a perfect 9-0 mark. It’s the third consecutive season the Bronchos have gone unbeaten in outside of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. No player on the current roster has ever lost a game to a non-MIAA opponent.

Central Oklahoma returns in the new year to open MIAA competition and wrap up its seven-game home stand. The Bronchos host Lincoln on Thursday, Jan. 4 before hosting Lindenwood on Saturday, Jan. 7.