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Trouble in paradise

Lady Red Wolves struggle to take victory in Cancun Challenge

Published: Monday, December 2, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 17:12

While most of us enjoyed the week off with family, friends, and a little too much turkey, the Lady Red Wolves basketball team was hard at work, competing at the Cancun Challenge in Cancun, Mexico.  This tournament, one of many that you will see around the nation this time of year, featured teams from the Pac 12, Big Ten, ACC, and the Colonial Athletic Association.  The Lady Red Wolves, who surprised many with a great start to the season at 4-1, would play a tough slate with Arizona State, Illinois, and North Carolina over the course of three days. 

Head coach Brian Boyer knew going into the tournament that it was going to be a difficult few days on many levels.  “It’s tough to play such a hard set of games in a setting like Cancun.  It’s definitely hard for all of us to balance being in a resort town and enjoying our time there, with being focused on our opponents and being in each game mentally.” 

The Lady Red Wolves jumped right into the thick of the tournament, as their opening game was against the #11 North Carolina.  The Lady Tar Heels (4-1) lead this game from start to finish, cruising to a 93-60 rout of the Lady Red Wolves. 

“The first eight to ten minutes I was very impressed with our competitiveness and the things we were doing,” Boyer said. “We just couldn’t finish on some shots and then things started snowballing somewhat and we never could get it headed back in the right direction.” 

Sophomore Jalen O'Bannon led the Red Wolves 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting while sophomore Aundrea Gamble had eight rebounds to go along with eight points.  The Lady Red Wolves did not have time to dwell over this loss, as they were up to face Illinois the next day.  The Lady Illini (4-2), who had fallen to Arizona State the day before, struggled early in the game against the Lady Red Wolves and only led by one at the half.  However, a 41-26 scoring margin propelled Illinois to a 70-54 win over the Lady Red Wolves.  O’Bannon, again, came up big with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and one assist. 

“In the first half we had a couple of early turnovers but then I thought we settled in pretty well and got really good play from Jalen O’Bannon and Jasmine Hunt in the post,” Boyer said. “The thing Illinois tries to do on defense is try to take your guards out of the game and they did they a good job of that in the second half and we were not able to find a way to overcome that.” 

Despite these setbacks, the Lady Red Wolves had one last chance to make a statement against Arizona State.  The Lady Sun Devils (5-1) had not lost a game in the tournament and had even dispatched #11 North Carolina.  In what was their best game of the tournament for Arkansas State, the Lady Red Wolves suffered a 69-66 heartbreaking loss to the Lady Sun Devils.  Gamble led the heroic effort from the Lady Red Wolves with 23 Points, three rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Arkansas State left Cancun with a 4-4 record after dropping three straight. 

“I leave this tournament feeling a lot better where we are as a team,” Boyer said. “While we leave with three losses that was just a gutty effort today and we had two chances to really drop our heads and get behind and the players didn’t do that and their composure and confidence and fought through those runs and gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”  The Lady Red Wolves will have a chance to rebound from these setbacks on Dec. 12 when they face the Wichita State Shockers.  Tipoff is at 7:05 p.m. from Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Ks.

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