As Northwest women’s basketball freshman guard Molly Hartnett weaved side to side in the middle of the fourth quarter to get past the tough defense of Central Oklahoma’s freshman guard Taylor Dement, Hartnett was fouled crossing mid-court.
Dement clapped in Hartnett’s face, letting Hartnett know she was right there with the stout defense, to which Hartnett clapped back. The back-and-forth skirmish was a culmination of emotions from the game being a physical and close contest.
Hartnett saw a mere 2 minutes on the bench in the matchup, and consistently brought Northwest (4-7) back from the struggles of guarding the bigs of Central Oklahoma (7-4), but it wasn’t quite enough, as the Bearcats lost 61-51 Jan. 23 in Bearcat Arena.
Hartnett was one of three freshmen in the starting lineup for third-year coach Austin Meyer; and she pushed her collegiate inexperience to the side, having the first 6 points for the Bearcats to start the game, and 11 of the 15 first-quarter points.
“She’s the playmaker for us. Her, Mallory (McConkey), Jayna (Green), was getting downhill a little bit tonight, but it’s a lot of pressure on Molly because we ask her to make so many plays,” Meyer said. “There’s times in the game when you looked out there and she’s just gassed. I mean, she’s that good of a player that we want the ball in her hands.”
Throughout the matchup, she drew the immediate attention of the Bronchos. With the Bearcats trailing 45-36 at the start of the fourth quarter, Hartnett got back-to-back and-one opportunities, eventually completing both of them.
Hartnett finished with a career-high 26 points, one of two players for Northwest to reach double-digit scoring figures. This marks her second 20-point game on the season.
“Coach Meyer kind of runs a lot of stuff through me. I mean, it feels good that he does that, and especially with a lot of people out, some people need to step up, and today was one of those days I felt like I needed to step up to help us get better,” Hartnett said. “Obviously, a lot of other people played very well, but 26 points feels pretty good.”
Heading into halftime trailing 28-26, Northwest looked to limit Central’s senior forward Kelsey Johnson, the second-highest scorer in the MIAA. Johnson came into the game averaging 21 points and was held to 10 at the half.
When the buzzer sounded to begin the third quarter, Johnson broke out of her shell and dominated the paint against an undersized Bearcat team. She helped her team go on a 10-1 run in the quarter, pushing the Bronchos’ lead to 45-36.
“I thought we were good (defensively). ... We had some breakdowns today, but I thought we were really into it. We had a couple of possessions where we forced close to shot clock violation,” Meyer said. “We had a few that really hurt us where we had a great defensive possession, but gave up an offensive rebound in the last three to four seconds. Jayna was undersized against a 6’ 3” post player, but did a great job staying with the moves we showed her that Johnson goes with.”
Dement also put on an impressive second-half performance, using her quickness to blow by defenders and finish at the rim. With a depleted Northwest roster, it was hard to stop the conditioned Dement when she got an open lane.
After heading into the locker room going 0-4 from the field, Dement finished 3-7 on the game and tallied 7 points.
“I feel like we came out and struggled for a bit, especially when they went on their run,” Hartnett said. “Obviously, we made some runs back, but it wasn’t enough in the end to get the W.”
The height of the Bearcats, or lack thereof, proved to be detrimental in trying to secure a win, but it’s hard to overlook the depth the Bearcats had readily available to match a Bronchos team that has one loss since Dec. 19.
“It’s all about right now who’s on the floor. We’re 11 right now that are physically able to practice and play. We’re just trying to find a mix and continue to get better,” Meyer said. “There’s kids that aren’t playing a ton of minutes, and it’s all about making the most of your minutes. We struggled a little bit in that with our depth, so then we’re forced to play those starters a lot longer.”
In a game where Johnson made her presence known, the Bearcats could not afford to have shooting droughts if they wanted a chance to win. The ’Cats were limited to 29% shooting from the field.
“When you look back, we’re getting the shooters shots we want,” Meyer said. “We’re not standing out there at 40 feet firing up shots or shooting guarded shots. I thought Jillian (Fleming) had some good ones, Jaelyn (Haggard) had some good ones, so it’s just a matter of stepping up and knocking them down.”
This game marks the end of a three-game slate in five days, but a similar slate stands in front the Bearcats and starts when they travel to Jefferson City, Missouri, Jan. 28 to face Lincoln.