As Northwest senior guard Jaelyn Haggard trotted back onto the court following halftime against Newman, she was sitting at 1 for 6 from beyond the arc, unable to find her rhythm in a tight contest.
Haggard and the Bearcats awoke from their hibernation in the second half, as Haggard drilled a 3-pointer, then took a charge the next possession, igniting both the crowd and her teammates. As she stood up, a smile formed across her face.
Haggard's smile served as a precursor to the shooting performance she had in store for the second half, as her offensive onslaught throughout the final 20 minutes of the game gave Northwest a 57-47 win over the Jets Jan. 21 in Bearcat Arena.
The bulk of Haggard’s points came in the fourth quarter, with the Bearcats holding onto a 4-point lead. With four minutes remaining, Haggard hit back-to-back 3-pointers and sealed the game with her sixth basket from downtown with 2:30 left in regulation.
“It felt good, because there for a while, I’ve been struggling. I told you I was feeling it; one of these days they were going to fall,” Haggard said. “With the zone, you kind of have to pick your spots, and anytime I was on our sideline closest to the team, the coaches were yelling to stay ready and look for my shot. Anytime I caught it, and I saw a glimpse of an opening, sometimes you just have to take it.”
Haggard finished with 20 points on the night, including 6 of 11 from deep. While Haggard had her moment to shine, the Bearcats were looking for scoring from their underclassmen due to senior guard Kylie Coleman being out the rest of the season due to an ACL injury.
The two looking to keep the Bearcats on task were freshmen guard Molly Hartnett and forward Jillian Fleming.
Northwest had trouble exploiting Newman’s zone defense, unable to create a post presence. Hartnett noticed the struggle and took it upon herself to drive to the basket more. She visited the charity stripe eight times throughout the matchup and tallied 14 points in 36 minutes of game time.
“We ended up putting Molly in the middle of the zone and let her kind of attack. They left it pretty open in there,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “I thought that was a big adjustment for us.”
Fleming, who was limited from participating in games early in the year due to a preseason foot surgery, has shown no signs of wear and tear, and proved that in a much needed win for the Bearcats.
While Fleming was a pest on offense throughout the night, her biggest moment coming at the beginning of the fourth quarter. With the Bearcats holding onto a narrow 39-37 lead, Fleming was fouled and drained both free throws. A minute later, she hit another two free throws, resulting in a 12-point performance, which included a perfect 5 of 5 at the free-throw line.
“She makes some really savvy plays. … She’s really good in the middle of the zone, short corner. She just has a good basketball IQ and feel for the game,” Meyer said about Fleming. “She’s a really good 3-point shooter. She hasn’t shown it yet; I think part of that is her legs. She’s probably someone that needed three or four weeks to get in shape, and she got about five days.”
Fleming finding her touch from the 3-point mark could vastly improve the young and inexperienced Bearcat offense. Northwest’s starting five consists of two freshmen and one sophomore. The depth is limited as well due to injury, with sophomore forward Caitlyn Jordan and freshman guard Caely Kesten coming off the bench.
Ending a four-game losing streak with a depleted roster has Meyer excited for what his younger players can do the rest of the way and in the future, specifically Kesten.
“It was big, and CK (Kesten) made some big plays late. Defensively, she got in the lane and forced a turnover. I thought she guarded the ball well. I thought she took care of it; she did some really good things,” Meyer said. “That’s a kid who hasn’t practiced. … If she ever gets a week or two out on the floor, she’s going to be that much better.”
While a young lineup could provide trouble for most teams, Haggard believes the Bearcats are starting to gel together.
“I think we’re kind of starting to figure out what our rotations are and who plays best together. One through 12, whoever comes in that night, I don’t have a single worry about chemistry,” Haggard said. “Tonight showed that, just about anybody can do anything. I don’t think our connection or chemistry is anything to worry about.”
To complement the Bearcats' offensive surge in the second half, their defense pestered the Jets for the remainder of the contest. Jets senior guard Brooke Haney came into the game averaging nearly 13 points while shooting 41% from the floor, including 48% percent from 3-point range.
In the matchup with Northwest, Haney had 8 points, and the Newman offense was held to 40% shooting on the night, including 21% from three.
“We try and continue to focus on one possession at a time. We talked about if we focus on that process of playing hard, getting better, being a great teammate and all that stuff, the result stuff will eventually come,” Meyer said. “Obviously, that process and play-hard focus ended up in a victory tonight.”
The Bearcats will finish their three-game slate in five days Jan. 23, when Central Oklahoma visits Bearcat Arena. For Haggard, the dense week is beneficial.
“I prefer it. It’s less time to think. ... It’s less stress and less pressure,” Haggard said. “You just move one game at a time. It’s more games. You get to play back-to-back-to-back, and I think that’s what we all look forward to.”