ABILENE – Renata Marquez didn't have a chance to make many plays Saturday afternoon, but when she finally did, she made the most of it and helped deliver a big win for the ACU Wildcats in front of a raucous Moody Coliseum crowd and a nationwide audience watching on ESPN3.
Marquez's driving layup and free throw with 1:15 to play gave the Wildcats a five-point lead over Sam Houston State and they made that advantage stand up as ACU snapped a two-game losing streak with a 73-67 win over the Lady Bearkats in Southland Conference action.
The win pushes the Wildcats to 12-8 overall and 3-2 in the Southland, while Sam Houston State saw its four-game winning streak snapped as it falls to 9-10 and 4-4. ACU will be back in action Thursday when it takes on Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. in Nacogdoches.
ACU and Sam Houston State were engaged in an entertaining back-and-forth battle all afternoon with ACU grabbing a seven-point lead (69-62) with 3:42 to play before the Lady Bearkats rallied with five straight points on a 3-pointer by Amanda Barnes and two free throws from Angela Beadle to make it 69-67.
After back-to-back fruitless possessions for each team, the Wildcats got the ball back as Sydney Shelstead stepped in front of a pass intended for Beadle and gave her team possession. ACU head coach Julie Goodenough called a 30-second timeout and called a set play intended to get the ball to Marquez and let her go to work.
And that's exactly what the senior forward from Conroe did as she took Jasmine Johnson to the bucket, hit the bucket and drew the foul. Her subsequent free throw gave the Wildcats a 72-67 lead with 1:15 to play and that would be the difference in the game. The Lady Bearkats missed six 3-pointers in the final 32 seconds of the contest as the Wildcats picked up the win in their first appearance on ESPN.
"I was probably a little bit too aggressive with Renata in keeping her in the game," ACU head coach Julie Goodenough said. "It was my fault she picked up that fourth foul (with 14:10 left in the game). But I knew that she would want to contribute when she got the chance, and I felt like that would be a good opportunity for her to either get the bucket or get to the free throw line."
While it was a senior who put in the game-deciding points, it was one of the Wildcats' precocious freshman twins, Suzzy Dimba, who propelled them into the lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
ACU trailed 58-56 before Shelstead knocked down two free throws to tie the game with 7:26 to play. Suzzy Dimba then hit three straight layups over a 111-second stretch to push the Wildcats back out front at 64-62. After her third straight layup, she took an ill-advised 3-pointer, but that was about her only mistake she made in a game where she finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, both team highs.
And unlike in Thursday's disappointing 85-83 loss to Lamar, the Wildcats didn't hoist any ill-advised shots down the stretch and that helped them pull away from the Lady Bearkats.
"I got that first layup and then was fortunate to get the same look the next two trips down the floor," Dimba said. "Then I took a bad shot, but, luckily it didn't hurt us. We learned a lot from the mistakes we made late in the game against Lamar. We just weren't going to take bad shots or do anything to take away our chances to win this game."
After Suzzy Dimba's bucket to make it a 64-62 lead, sophomore guard Whitney West buried a 3-pointer with 4:22 left , which got the crowd going and pushed the ACU lead to 67-62. That set up the final 3:42 where the Wildcats pulled away for the victory.
West finished with 16 points for the Wildcats on 6 of 12 shooting from the floor, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range, while Lizzy Dimba had 10 points and four rebounds. Shelstead came off the bench for 10 points and three rebounds in 23 minutes, while Jessica Elkins had three 3-pointers and nine points off the bench.