COLUMBIA — Starting forward Veronica Smith had to be feeling a little left out. With a little more than five minutes left in the Columbia College women's basketball team's game against Missouri Baptist, she was the only Cougars player who saw the floor that didn’t have a point.
“I was just looking to take the ball out and play defense,” Smith said. “I’d just get the ball down the court and let (my teammates) score.”
A trip to the free-throw line with 5:14 left changed all that. After missing her first, Smith sank the next shot, then on the next possession she made a 3-pointer.
“I wasn’t necessarily relived when I hit that free throw," Smith said. "My first couple of shots were, well, they were just sad.”
Not that it mattered.
The Cougars easily beat the Spartans 103-82 on Thursday night at the Arena of Southwell Complex to extend their winning streak to 18, two off the school record. Cougars coach Mike Davis said he was proud of his team’s performance.
“This team is playing really well,” he said. “We’re very blessed with the team we have here.”
The Spartans didn’t let Columbia College, No. 8 in the NAIA at 18-1, take it easy early. Using a pressure defense that forced 24 Cougars turnovers, Missouri Baptist made it close at the beginning of both halves. But as the clock ticked away, the Cougars opened the floodgates, scoring more than 100 points for the first time this season to prompt a standing ovation from their fans.
“We could have played as well on defense as we did on offense,” Davis said. “But they kind of forced us into that style of play. Once we shared the ball, we were able to score.”
And score a lot.
Five Cougars were in double figures, led by senior forward Rachel Oswald with 25 and sophomore forward Kirsti Wilkerson with 20.Oswald, a transfer from MU who leads the team in scoring, was the workhorse on a front court that outrebounded and outplayed the Spartans.
“Once we broke the press, their defense was really weak,” Oswald said. “I’d just reverse to the middle, pass it out to the wing, and it was easy from there.”
So easy that the Cougars hit 71 percent from the field in the first half. But the Spartans wouldn’t go quietly, going on a 10-2 run to start the second half. Davis, however, wasn’t nervous.
“I wouldn’t say nervous, I think there’s a better word than that,” Davis said with a laugh. “I’d say we were a little disappointed we weren’t taking our opportunities like we should have. But once we beat the double team, we played great.”