Pick a Wichita State women’s lead from the second half of its collapse against Saint Joseph’s on Friday night, and it’s just as difficult to explain how it evaporated as the next.
Up 16 with 12 minutes left. Up eight with 3:38 left. Up six with 28 seconds left.
Where do you even begin to explain how Saint Joseph’s, and not Wichita State, emerged from a consolation game in the WNIT with a 81-73 victory in overtime at Koch Arena?
“We were all scattered, we were five different people,” WSU leader Alex Harden offered up. “We’ve got to be as one.”
For 30 minutes of regulation, Wichita State was the aggressor, forcing a team that doesn’t turn the ball over to do just that and three-point specialist Erin Shields into a 1-for-8 shooting performance.
For the final 10, WSU looked like the team lacking a true point guard, the team transitioning seven players to the Division I level, and the team with only one senior.
Turnovers, missed free throws, and the inability to box out cost the Shockers a victory that looked all but secured when Michelle Price (14 points, eight rebounds) converted a three-point play for a 47-31 lead with 12:28 remaining in regulation.
“It never even crossed my mind we were ever going to have to go to overtime,” said Harden, echoing the thoughts of everyone on WSU’s bench.
The momentum, and ultimately the game, swung when Saint Joseph’s switched to a three-quarter court zone press. The response to the change was staggering, as one WSU ballhandler after another wilted when pressure forced their decision.
“We were falling apart as a team,” Jamillah Bonner said. “In the huddles, the conversation was getting lower. People kept putting their heads down. We need to come together as a team, as a whole, and lift each other up.”
In the final five minutes, Wichita State had 15 possessions. Fifteen opportunities to close out the contest. Essentially 15 missed chances.
Of those 15 possessions, Wichita State missed seven free throws and turned the ball over five times.
“To me, that’s toughness,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “It’s that toughness factor that a kid has to step to the line and knock down free throws when the game is on the line. You’ve been there so many times, you ought to be able to do that from muscle memory with your eyes shut.”
Leading 69-64 with the ball and 24 seconds to waste, WSU missed two free throws with Michaela Dapprich at the line, then compounded its mistake by bailing out a wild three-point attempt from Shields by fouling her. Shields made all three shots.
Still, 11 seconds remained to dribble out with a 2-point lead. Yet, Harden was unable to do it, cornering herself in at the mid-court line and getting the ball poked out and turned into the game-tying layup with 1.8 seconds left by Ciara Andrews.
There was no recovering from that for WSU, which allowed Saint Joseph’s to end overtime on an 8-0 run and steal the win.
Saint Joseph’s was led by Natasha Cloud, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
The loss itself is far from devastating for WSU (1-2), but what could be is the leg injury suffered by Dapprich, an emerging star, in overtime. The extent of the injury was not known directly following the game.
“We have to regroup and remember this feeling,” said Harden (15 points, nine rebounds, seven assists). “This is a feeling you don’t want to have. We had it on our home floor and it’s something that should drive us to not want to have it in March, when it will really end our season.”
Halftime—Wichita State 30, Saint Joseph’s 23. Three-point shooting—SJU 3-17 (Andrews 1-2, Berger 1-3, Shields 1-6, Gomez 0-1, Fitzpatrick 0-2, Cloud 0-3), WSU 3-11 (Preston 1-2, Mi. Dapprich 1-3, Decker 1-4, Bonner 0-1, Harden 0-1). Rebounds—SJU 45 (Cloud 11), WSU 33 (Harden 9). Assists—SJU 15 (Cloud 9), WSU 15 (Harden 7). Fouls—SJU 29, WSU 26. A—1,970.