Improvement considerable but not quite enough to overcome MSU-Billings

By Doug Fitzgerald published November 27, 2009

COLORADO SPRINGS â€" If a team is measured by progress instead of perfection, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's basketball coach Stephen Kirkham should be well-pleased by what he saw on Friday.

While the Mountain Lions were beaten 70-61 by the Montana State-Billings Yellowjackets on the first day of the Hyatt Place Thanksgiving Classic, it was clear that UCCS has shown considerable improvement since the beginning of the season, Kirkham's first as coach.

Twenty-five points of improvement, to be exact.

Just 12 days ago, the Mountain Lions were pounded 91-57 by the same MSU-Billings team. While venue certainly played a role, the Mountain Lions believe that things are starting to click.

"We're starting to get more comfortable with we're doing," said UCCS senior Lauren Holm, who tied for the team high with 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. "It's taken some time because we do have a new coach, some of our players are new and putting in a new offense. It takes time but we're starting to get there."

Since the first MSU-Billings game was on Nov. 15, you can get pretty close to "getting there" in just under two weeks. What's hard for Kirkham and the Mountain Lions, though, is that they could - and should - have gotten those extra nine points and maybe just a couple more on Friday.

"I was disappointed because we had a chance to REALLY come back and make a statement," said Kirkham. "We're just not quite good enough offensively yet to beat a team like Billings."

UCCS led from the 14:46 mark of the second half and had as much as a six-point advantage. The edge disappeared for good with 2:55 remaining as Kayla Ryan hit the second of consecutive field goals that turned a 60-57 lead into a 61-60 deficit. Ryan went on to another layup and a 3-pointer - capping a personal nine-point run - to give the Yellowjackets a 66-60 lead with 1:23 remaining.

The Mountain Lions couldn't recover.

UCCS led by as many as eight in the first half, but a 16-5 MSU-Billings run over the final six minutes gave the Yellowjackets a 35-32 advantage at the intermission.

"We didn't execute our offense for a six-minute spell at the end of the first half," said Kirkham. "We had them tired; they were taking bad shots and not making them but we'd just come down a jack a shot up quick.

"We're not a team that can just come down and shoot the ball whenever we want to. We've got to run the offense to be a good basketball team."

Mallory Lowe had her third double-double of the young season with 16 points and 14 rebounds for UCCS, which slipped to 3-2. Freshman Lauren Wolfinger added 13 points and four steals. Ashley Miller contributed seven rebounds and Janean Jubic had four assists.

Ryan Led MSU-Billings (4-0) with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Sarah McNamee and Mandy Jacobs added 12 and 10 points respectively.

The Mountain Lions committed 14 turnovers after having given the ball away 19 times the first time the teams met. The biggest area of improvement came on defense, where the Yellowjackets shot 37.9 percent compared to 46.1 in the first game. Included in those numbers is 30.3 percent on 3-pointers compared to a blistering 43.2 percent on the 15th.

Where the Mountain Lions fell shot was in their offensive execution, converting on just 30.2 percent of Friday's field goal attempts.

"Our basketball IQ on offense had got to go way up," said Kirkham. "That's coaching. I've got to get them to where they're going to do that stuff. That's what you've got to do; get better every time you play."

True, but 26 points in 12 days is a pretty good start.

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