Clutch play by Desiree Phillips and Christiana Shorter in the game's deciding moments helped lead Missouri State past UC Santa Barbara here, 68-61, in the consolation finals of the Hardwood Tournament of Hope women's basketball event Thursday (Nov. 22).
After the Gauchos came all the way back from a double-figure deficit with 8:10 to play, Phillips broke the 46-46 tie with a baseline left jumper to put MSU (3-2) on top for good. But Phillips didn't stop there, feeding Shorter for a quick bucket less than a minute later and then draining back-to-back 3-pointers that pushed the Lady Bears' advantage back to 10 points, 59-49, with just under five minutes to play.
Phillips finished with a career-high 10 points as part of a crew of five MSU players to score in double figures. Whitney Edie had team-highs 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Shorter tacked on 16 points. Hannah Wilkerson and Kenzie Williams each added 11 points in the victory that led MSU to a 2-1 record and fifth-place finish in Mexico.
In the game's final four minutes, UCSB's Nicole Nesbit caught fire to keep the Big West Conference foes in the game. Nesbit made four free throws, and Sweets Underwood knocked down a pair of jumpers, the latter with 81 seconds remaining, to make it a 60-57 game.
But just as they did the entire afternoon, the Lady Bears responded with a key play. With the ball loose on the floor in front of their own bench and less than a minute to play, the Lady Bears' Kenzie Williams found the handle and fed a laser-strike pass to a wide-open Shorter. Shorter converted the wide-open layup, was fouled, and completed the 3-point play to end the Gauchos' threat and push MSU back ahead by six.
Shorter, Edie and Williams combined to go 4-for-6 at the foul line in the final minute to ice the win and give MSU its second victory in as many days.
MSU was 22-for-49 (.449) from the field, 4-of-13 (.308) from bonus distance, and 20-for-28 (.714) at the line. The Lady Bears out-rebounded their third straight opponent in the tournament, 40-34, and got 27 points from its non-starters.
UCSB (2-3) was led by Underwood with game-highs 18 points and 11 rebounds. Nesbit added 16 points, and Destini Mason contributed 13 for the Gauchos who were just 1-of-8 (.125) from 3-point range. Santa Barbara was 26-for-69 (.377) from the field and 8-of-11 (.727) at the line while forcing 17 turnovers and collecting 14 offensive caroms.
In the first half, Edie scored 13 points, including Missouri State's last 11 of the opening period, to help the Lady Bears to a narrow 27-23 lead at the break.
The Lady Bears jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game with a 3-pointer by Hannah Wilkerson. After UCSB tied the game with an ensuing 5-2 run, Williams had the play of the half by gathering in a long offensive rebound, driving to the bucket and converting in traffic while being fouled. Williams tacked on the bonus free throw to put MSU ahead 10-7 at the 12:17 mark, and the defending MVC champions never relinquished their lead the rest of the half.
The Lady Bears' largest lead of the first stanza was 18-9 after a Phillips baseline left jumper and an Edie layup in transition put the cap on an 11-2 outburst at the 8:05 mark.
UCSB put together a brief 8-2 run to pull within 20-17 with 4:45 to go in the opening half when Mason dropped in her fourth field goal of the period, but MSU quickly responded with an Edie 3-pointer and ran its lead to eight twice more before the intermission.
Earlier in the day, UCF defeated Mississippi State for 7th place, 64-56. Winthrop and Gonzaga are playing for third place with Oregon State and Louisville battling for the tournament title later Thursday evening.
Missouri State returns to home soil a week from today to battle Oral Roberts in a 7:05 p.m. tilt on Nov. 29 against Oral Roberts at JQH Arena. Tickets for the ORU game are available now through MissouriStateTix.com or by calling (417) 836-7678 during box office hours next week. The Chevy Pickup Window at JQH Arena will also re-open Monday morning for tickets to all future Lady Bears' games.
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