By Matt Goisman
KIOWA — Stuart’s athletic guards helped stifle Kiowa’s offense and limit the Cowgirls to just one 3-pointer in the first half of Tuesday’s game.
Low on energy by the third quarter, the Lady Hornets could only watch Addy Clift and the Cowgirls turn a nail-biter into a blowout.
Clift scored 42 points, and the Cowgirls used an explosive third quarter to seize control of and then win Tuesday’s season-opener at home, 74-56.
“It was kind of a wild game,” Kiowa coach Wade Daniel said. “Stuart played very well, very hard. They executed and came at us and wanted to beat us, and we have to respond to those things.”
Stuart leading scorer Kayla Smith tied the game 31-31 in the final minute of the first half, but Clift hit a 3-pointer from well behind the line to give the Cowgirls a 34-31 lead heading into halftime. Up just 43-41 midway through the third, Clift began an 11-2 Kiowa run with a steal she quickly turned into a layup and a 45-41 lead.
Stuart lost its next two possessions on turnovers, and in between Clift hit a jumper to push the lead to 47-41. Smith cut the deficit to 4 with two free throws, but Clift knocked down a 3-pointer, then Lily Daniel tipped in an offensive rebound.
Erin Foris turned a steal into a fastbreak layup with two seconds left in the third to make it 54-43 Cowgirls, then Clift opened the fourth with another 3-pointer to push the lead to 57-43. Of Clift’s 42 points, 23 came in the second half.
“They played really good defense at first, and then I realized they started backing up a little bit, and I could shoot or dish off,” Clift said.
“At first, we were a little bit frazzled, I think. It ended up being good. I think that’s how first games always are.”
Clift seemed to especially enjoy working with center Rylee Smith, also back from last year’s state semifinalist team. Clift passed it to Rylee Smith, in the low post twice during the second half, and both times Smith then passed it right back to Clift for open jumpshots.
“She’s experienced and she’s got pretty good size and she’s pretty smart with the ball,” Daniel said of Smith.
“Her (Clift) and Miranda (Stiles), they like to use Rylee a lot, and they’re comfortable doing that. We just kind of sometimes forget and go away from it. We found it and it helped us quite a bit.”
Madi Slawson scored 10 for Kiowa, knocking down a 3-pointer on a pass from Clift in the third, and new starting forward Tori Gillispie scored 8.
As Kiowa’s offense improved throughout the game, Stuart’s offense began to break down against Kiowa’s half-court defense. Kayla Smith had dominated in the paint in the first half, scoring 14 points on six baskets and two free throws in the first 16 minutes, but she knocked down just one second-half basket en route to a 23-point game.
“We kind of started freaking out, because we’re new,” Kayla said.
“We rushed a little bit too much (in the second half). If we would’ve slowed down, I think it would’ve been a little bit different.”
The Lady Hornets don’t have anyone tall enough to be a true post player, but the team got 19 points mostly out of the paint from McKay Barton, making her and Kayla Smith the most likely to start at forward. Kayla said the Lady Hornets will try to slow their offense down this season, giving opponents fewer chances to score.
To make this new offense work, Stuart coach Melinda Dobson said the Lady Hornets will need more of the kind of interior presence Kayla provided Tuesday.
“Not only her, but all of them have to drive in, get physical,” Dobson said.
Stuart also couldn’t maintain the high-pressure defense it had used so successfully in the first half. Despite falling behind by as many as six points at one point in the first half, the Lady Hornets kept the game within reach by forcing the Cowgirls to throw multiple passes into traffic, leading to turnovers.
But in the second half the Lady Hornets just couldn’t hang with Clift, Foris or any of the Cowgirls’ speedy guards.
“We’ve only been in the gym for three weeks, so it’s the conditioning,” Dobson said. “We’ll get there. Just a few more weeks in the gym.”
With the win, the Cowgirls opened their season 1-0. The Lady Hornets fell to 1-1.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.