March Madness began in earnest Wednesday afternoon, and unfortunately the ACU Wildcats were one of its first victims.
Texas A&M-Commerce – which entered the Lone Star Conference Women's Post-Season Tournament as the No. 7 seed – dominated the glass and pulled off an 80-79 upset of the No. 2 seed and co-conference champion Wildcats in the first round at the Allen Events Center.
The Lions (11-15) will move on to face either No. 3 seed West Texas A&M or No. 6 seed Angelo State at noon Friday in the tournament semifinals. The Wildcats (21-6) will now wait until Sunday to find out if their season will continue in the NCAA Division II South Central Region Tournament.
ACU is No. 3 in this week's regional poll with the top eight in Sunday's final poll moving on to the regional tournament. The Wildcats haven't reached the regional tournament since the 2008-09 season, and first-year ACU head coach Julie Goodneough said the four-day wait will be tough.
"Our goal was to play in the last NCAA Division II national tournament that ACU is eligible to play in, and now we have to let something besides our play on the floor decide if we'll be given that chance," Goodenough said. "That's hard, but it's also the position we put ourselves in with the way we played (Wednesåday). We put a really good season together; we just laid an egg today."
The NCAA will announce its national tournament field at 9 p.m. Sunday on ncaasports.com.
ACU never really gave itself a chance to reach the tournament semifinals on Wednesday. The Wildcats came out flat, never responded to Commerce's physical play on both ends, and never found their shots from long range.
The Lions out-rebounded the Wildcats 50-24, including an astounding 23-3 on the offensive end. Commerce had 25 second-chance points to just four for the Wildcats.
ACU also hit just 1 of 10 shots from 3-point range after entering the game averaging a league-best 8.7 3-pointers per game.
The Wildcats had no answer for Commerce post Breanna Harris, who had 25 points and 15 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds. She dominated play inside as she hit 8 of 16 shots from the field in 34 minutes of play.
ACU has now been out-rebounded in 13 of its 27 games this season, and the Wildcats knew Wednesday's task would be tough against Commerce, which leads the league in offensive rebounding at 19.8 points per game. Those 23 offensive rebounds on Wednesday helped the Lions score 80 points (19 points better than their per-game average) and avenge two regular-season losses to the Wildcats.
"We've improved our rebounding, but when you refuse to block out or be physical against the best offensive rebounding team in the league, you're going to find yourself in a hole," Goodenough said. "We gave up way too many offensive rebounds and too many points off those rebounds."
As tough as the afternoon was for the Wildcats, they kept battling back throughout, tying the game at 47-47 with 13:48 to play after an 8-0 run and then going back and forth with the Lions down the stretch.
With 3:01 to play, though, it looked as if the Lions had locked it up when Ashlee Johnson hit a layup to put her team up by seven points at 76-69. But (15 points) came up with a steal and fed (career-high 26 points) for a jumper, followed by a three-point play from Marquez at the 1:48 mark to cut Commerce's lead to 76-74.
After Commerce missed a shot, ACU freshman point guard grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled. West – a 67-percent free throw shooter on the season – had a chance to tie the game with 1:18 to play, but missed both free throws and La'Tisha Hearne grabbed the defensive rebound. On the other end, Johnson missed a jumper, but Harris was there with her ninth and final offensive rebound, and her putback made it a 78-74 game with 1:05 to play.
After an ACU, La'Tisha Hearne made 1 of 2 free throws make it 79-74 with 45 seconds left. But Marquez was fouled by Hearne on the rebound of the second free throw miss, and her two free throws made it a 79-76 game with 35 seconds to play.
However, not necessarily needing to foul, Lankford was whistled for a block near halfcourt, sending Danielle Dixon to the line with 18 seconds to play. Dixon made the second and the Wildcats inbounded the ball. The basketball eventually wound up in the hands of West, whose corner 3-pointer was good, and the Wildcats first 3-pointer of the game cut the lead to 80-79 with five seconds to play.
But the Wildcats inexplicably didn't foul when the ball was inbounded and Commerce was able to run out the last five seconds on the clock and secure the one-point win.
The Wildcats end their stay in the Lone Star Conference with five straight post-season tournament losses, and could enter the regional tournament next week having lost six straight post-season games, including a first-round exit from the regional tournament in 2008-09.
Information provided by ACU athletics department.