If you looked at the box score from the Columbia College women’s basketball game against Park University on Tuesday night, you’d see that the No. 2 Cougars (13-2, 8-2 American Midwest Conference) led by as many as 31 points. You’d also infer that they handled the Pirates easily with the final score being 83-65.
What the final score can’t tell you is the Pirates brought the margin to just 10 points with just under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
“Park just kept firing at us and playing hard,” Cougars forward Morgan Brandt said. “Sometimes we get complacent, but we found our rhythm.”
“You sometimes get a little too comfortable with a lead like that,” head coach Taylor Possail added. “Learning experience for us tonight and I think we’ll be better because of it.”
Following a brief timeout and the moment where Park brought the game within reach, Possail put all five of his starters back in. It didn’t take long after that to extend the Cougars’ lead to an unreachable margin.
Junior guard Jordan Alford found Brandt for a corner 3-pointer to make the lead 13. Brandt then got fouled on the next trip and went 1-for-2 at the line to make it 77-63 with just over two minutes left.
It took a whole lot from Brandt on both ends of the floor to control the pace and keep the Pirates at bay. The junior forward, who nearly averages a double-double, got one Tuesday with 14 points and 12 rebounds. She also contributed five steals to the Cougars’ total of 12.
“With Morgan, you can always rely on her rebounds,” senior guard Ashlee Marlatt said. “We really appreciate her. She works her ass off in the post on both sides, gets rebounds offensive and defensive, and she pushes the floor like a guard. She helps us a lot.”
Columbia College felt the effort of Marlatt on both ends of the floor on Tuesday as well. She was one of four Cougars to score in double digits, including Brandt. Marlatt scored 10 points — six from 3 territory — but she also added three steals.
Junior forward Raegan Wieser scored a team-high 15, while freshman forward Ukari McKinney tallied 12 points, two of which came with only one shoe on after a bucket in the second quarter.
Alford, the Cougars’ leading scorer, ended with just nine points and dished out five assists.
The Cougar scorers dueled with Park guards Amanda Alexander and Kiana Smith, who each tallied 18 points. Through every run that Alexander and Smith could muster up for the Pirates, the Cougars had a response.
Though the Cougars had solid scoring, it was their defense that counteracted the tough effort from Park. Columbia College forced the Pirates to turn the ball over 24 times, half of which came on Cougar steals.
“A big thing for our defense is getting into gaps,” Brandt said. “If you’re in the gaps, it’s easier to get steals.”
Columbia College shook some New Year’s rust off against Park University. But despite errors to fix, the Cougars are confident headed into the rest of conference play.
“There has to be a certain level of confidence to remain in the position we’re in,” Possail said. “It’s still a long season but you have to continue to believe that when we step on the floor, we have the upper hand. Bad days for us are really good days for a lot of other teams so we have to keep the course.”
“Our mentality has to be ‘we’re the better team’ every single time,” Marlatt said. “We have to expect that every team is going to play their best against us. I just feel that no matter how hard they try, we’re better. We have a better team.”
The Cougars will resume conference play against Missouri Baptist University on Thursday at Southwell Complex.
Cougar men falter against Park University
It was a different story in the Columbia College men’s game. The Cougars fell to Park University, 79-67.
Despite leading at the half, Columbia College was outscored in the second half, 50-32. The Cougars couldn’t keep up with the red-hot second half Pirate offense that shot 62 percent from the field and 54 percent from 3-point range.
Cougars guard Desmond Funches and forward Adam Mennemeyer were the only Columbia College players in double figures with 17 and 11 points, respectively.
The Cougars didn’t have an answer for the 31 points from Park guard Zach Rutland, who defiantly helped seal the deal for the Pirates.
Columbia College (8-7, 4-5 AMC) will try to bounce back in conference play when it also faces Missouri Baptist University on Thursday at Southwell Complex.