JOPLIN, Mo. — The University of Central Oklahoma women's basketball team beat Missouri Southern 66-51 Thursday night in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play.

Central improved to 11-3 on the season with the win and is now 5-1 in league play.

"We played really well on defense, which helped us when our offense was a bit off," UCO head coach Guy Hardaker said. "We turned the ball over too much, but our defense got it back when we needed them to and we found a way."

Kelsey Johnson led the Bronchos with 16 points. The junior was 7 of 12 from the floor and hit both of her free-throw attempts. Johnson added a game-high seven rebounds as well. Jaci Littell joined her in double figures, scoring 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers. Micayla Haynes added 11 points.

UCO hit 25 of 60 total shots, going just 5-for-19 from behind the arc. The Bronchos were 11 of 12 from the free-throw line.

The win for the Bronchos is officially a comeback win. UCO scored first, a layup from Johnson, but Southern responded with three consecutive 3-pointers to take an early 9-2 lead. Central worked its way back though, getting within a bucket, 9-6, after a pair of buckets from Haynes and Littell. Another short run by MSSU gave the Lions a comfortable first-quarter lead, but the Bronchos kept plugging away at it.

UCO forced seven first-quarter turnovers and took a 16-14 lead on a Littell 3-pointer with 1:58 to play. Brooke Rayner gave UCO a 19-16 lead with 1:21 to go on a 3-pointer of her own. UCO led 19-18 after the first 10 minutes. Littell's seven led the way.

A 3:23 scoring drought hampered the second-quarter effort by the Bronchos. UCO kept a strong defensive effort going though and only trailed 24-21 before Johnson ended the drought with a layup to cut into the deficit. UCO followed that with a Haynes 3-pointer to take a 26-24 lead. A fastbreak layup by Haynes on the next play gave Central a 28-24 lead, its biggest of the first half. Central also led by four at the break, 30-26, thanks to a Maddie Harelson put back in the final minute.

UCO shot 41.9% from the floor in the first half, and hit only 3 of 10 threes. Clary Donica's 1-for-2 trip to the free-throw line made up the only opportunity for the Bronchos at the charity stripe in the first half.

Central started the third quarter with a 5-0 run and an 8-2 spurt through 2:48. Johnson battled on the inside for the first two, Littell hit her second 3-pointer of the game, and Shatoya Bryson added a three of her own to give UCO a 38-28 lead. That was the biggest lead of the quarter. Southern spent the rest of the frame chipping away at the Broncho lead and eventually cut it back to two after a made jumper with one second to play in the quarter. UCO led 44-42 heading into the final 10 minutes.

The Bronchos started the fourth quarter the same way it started the third, with a big run. Haynes made a layup on the first possession then UCO forced a turnover. Donica scored a layup on the next possession then UCO forced another turnover. Bryson hit two free-throws after that and suddenly Central had a 50-42 lead. UCO forced four Southern turnovers in the first three minutes of the quarter.

UCO kept that up, outscoring MSSU 14-3 in the fourth quarter through six and a half minutes thanks to nine forced turnovers up to that point. Central led 58-45 with three minutes to go.

Donica finished with seven points and five rebounds. Bryson also scored seven points and pulled down five rebounds. Both players also had one steal. McKenna Pulley added six points and four rebounds. Rayner finished with three, while Harelson and Kaci Richardson added two.

UCO continues its weekend road trip Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. tipoff at Pittsburg State.

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