KATY, Texas – McNeese State coach Brooks Donald Williams was a bit concerned about the sluggish shoot-around from Allison Baggett early Wednesday morning, knowing she’d need the freshman’s production off the bench in the opening round game against Northwestern State.
The youngest of the Baggett sisters put Williams’ concerns to rest, connecting on all six of her shots in the fifth-seeded Cowgirls 63-45 win over the eighth-seeded Lady Demons at Merrell Center, moving the two-time defending tournament champs into Thursday’s quarterfinals against Nicholls State.
“It was extremely important for me to play with them here,” said Allison Baggett, who, along with Ashlyn Baggett led McNeese (17-13) with 15 points. “It’s important not only to play with them, but to also keeping this going as long as we can.”
Northwestern State (12-18) stayed pesky throughout much of the contest, trailing only 42-36 with a little more than 10 minutes to play, but Allison Baggett scored eight consecutive points to extend the Cowgirls’ margin to 50-39 at the 7:46 mark. The Lady Demons closed the gap to 50-41, yet were outscored 13-4 down the stretch as McNeese held them scoreless for the final 3:19.
Defense helped spur the victory for the Cowgirls, who held the Lady Demons to 39 percent shooting while also forcing 16 turnovers. McNeese kept Northwestern point guard Janelle Perez, the league’s freshman of the year, to just four points and one assist, which further hampered the Lady Demons upset bid.
“We thought that taking Perez out of her comfort zone would be a benefit to us,” Williams said.
Keisha Lee led Northwestern State with 19 points as the Lady Demons were able to keep the Cowgirls off-balance throughout much of the first half. McNeese led 24-13 with 7:54 left in the opening stanza, but were held scoreless for 5:26, watching their margin shrink to 24-20.
“We knew it would be tough going against them,” Williams said. “We didn’t handle it well early.”
Northwestern coach Brooke Stoehr said the experience of facing McNeese State provided a great measuring stick for a Lady Demons program that was picked 10th in the preseason poll.
“I’m very excited for the future of the program,” Stoehr said. “We’ve got a great freshman class coming in to go along with the three players that didn’t play this season.”
The Lady Demons defeated four of the top five teams during conference play and will return all but three players heading into the 2013-14 season.
Head coach Brooks Donald Williams
“I thought our girls came out and followed the game plan. They did a really great job and it was a total team effort. Allison (Baggett) really stepped up for us today when we needed some scorers. I thought we really great job guarding (Northwestern State guard Janelle) Perez, which was a major difference with the first two times we have played them.”
On McNeese’s defense…
“Perez is really good and makes Northwestern State go. We thought that taking her out of her comfort zone benefit us. I thought it did two things: it made Perez uncomfortable and it also limited (center Jasmine) Upchurch, too. It worked twofold for us, and I thought our girls did a great job executing the plan.”
On Allison Baggett…
“Allison came on big and she has done it all year. She had a big game and we needed another shooter to help really stretch the defense. We had to in order to be effective against the triangle or box-and-one defense.”
McNeese freshman guard Allison Baggett
On preparing for Northwestern State…
“We prepared a lot in practice by guarding a bunch of different ways and it ended up working out because Northwestern State couldn’t really hit anything on offense and disrupted everything they were trying to do.
On playing with her sisters…
“It is extremely important to get the season alive. I keep playing so I can keep playing with my sisters, and I play every game like it is my last. I am just glad to keep it going.”
McNeese State senior guard Ashlyn Baggett
On McNeese’s team effort…
“I didn’t really have to make many adjustments (to Northwestern’s defense) because my teammates kept scoring. I could have just stood in the corner and have them score. They just kept hitting every shot.”
Co-Head coach Brooke Stoehr
“We were playing the two-time defending champions, and McNeese State is that until someone knocks them off, and we were not able to do that today. They have two veteran senior leaders in the backcourt (Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett), and they came and attacked today. They had 15 (Ashlyn) and 14 (Caitlyn) today, and you can let a couple of them score, but you have to try to make those shots as difficult as possible, and they just got a couple of open looks. We just didn’t do a good enough job defensively. We struggled to score today at times. We turned the ball over 16 times and just got out of our rhythm, offensively.”
On the future of Lady Demon basketball…
“When you get picked last in the preseason, there are not any expectations for you. But we did expect for these young ladies to come to out every day and compete their tails off and get better. We kept it real simple: just get better today. Be better today that we were yesterday. There are not a lot of teams that are still getting better in late February and March, but this team was. That right there is a lot that we can build on. For these players to experience this season, from doubling their win total and tripling their conference win total, that only gives them momentum for next season. It gives the players a little tastes of what success is about.”
Northwestern State freshman guard Keisha Lee
On her offensive performance…
“McNeese State was mainly focused on Janelle (Perez), so I just decided to step up and help the team. I told the team to give me some better screens so I could get open.”
On this season …
“It was a lot of motivation for us this year to win since nobody expected us to. It really motivated us a lot to work hard. We just have to learn from this loss and move on and do better next year.”