Savannah Hamilton and Brianne Grisham made the most of their first career starts and short-handed Central Oklahoma disposed of East Central 75-66 Wednesday night to open defense of its Lone Star Conference North Division championship.
The Bronchos were without three injured players -- starters Ashley Beckley and Kasey Tweed and key reserve Alyssa Fuxa -- but Hamilton and Grisham picked up the slack in sparking UCO to its sixth win in seven outings.
Hamilton made 8-of-14 shots with a pair of 3-pointers in scoring a career-high 20 points while adding five rebounds and Grisham scored eight points with two treys to go along with three assists, a blocked shot and solid defense. That pair entered the contest averaging a combined 6.1 points a game.
“It wasn’t a very pretty game, but we did what we needed to do and got out of here with a win,” said UCO coach Guy Hardaker, whose team hosts Southeastern Oklahoma at 6 p.m. Saturday. “I was proud of the way Savannah and Bri stepped up when we really needed them.”
The Bronchos also got 18 points -- 15 in the second half -- and 10 rebounds from Jordan Stark, with Cristina Yarbrough adding 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds as UCO improved to 10-4 overall and 1-0 in the LSC North.
UCO led just 61-57 in the final four minutes before breaking the game open, getting consecutive layups from Stark, Yarbrough and Hamilton in surging in front by 10 (67-57) with 1:51 left to play.
The Tigers hit a 3-pointer at 1:40 to make it 67-60, but Stark made four free throws and Yarbrough one to push the spread to 72-60 with 55 seconds to play and the Bronchos coasted in.
UCO led 30-24 at halftime and made it 33-24 on a 3-pointer from the corner by Grisham 10 seconds into the second half. The Tigers clawed back to within four at 44-40 with 12:50 remaining before the Bronchos went on a 12-2 run to grab their biggest lead of the game.
Grisham started that spurt with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Stark erupted for six straight points with a pair of layups and two free throws and Hamilton converted a fast-break layup to up UCO’s advantage to 56-42 at the 8:29 mark.
Stark answered two ECU foul shots with a pair of her own to keep the lead at 14 (58-44) and it was 61-49 following a Hamilton layup with 6:27 left, but the Tigers hit a pair of treys in an 8-0 to close within 61-57 before UCO responded with its clinching charge.
The Bronchos got off to a fast start from outside against ECU’s zone defense, getting 3-pointers from Rose Anderson and Hamilton in taking a 6-0 lead just 38 seconds into the contest.
Back-to-back layups by Yarbrough, a follow shot by Hamilton and Anderson’s trey from the top of the key quickly pushed UCO’s lead to 15-6 at the 15:25, but the Bronchos soon went ice cold.
UCO missed its next nine shots -- all 3-pointers -- and turned the ball over five times in going scoreless for a nearly seven minutes, but the Tigers were only able to score eight points of their own in pulling within 15-14 at the 10:32 mark.
Stark finally ended the drought with a trey from the wing at 8:45 to make it 18-14, then ECU came back with an 8-2 run to take its first lead at 22-10 with 4:50 left in the half.
The Bronchos responded with a 10-2 spurt to end the half, getting four points each from Hamilton and Yarbrough to take a 30-24 lead at the break.