Steve Quattlebaum’s Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs came up seven points short in their showdown with Malvern last week, but the coach said his team seemed to have turned a corner.
Quattlebaum had said heading into the week that his team had not played well since its holiday tournament at Hot Springs, but the ship seemed to right itself last week.
"The last couple of games, we’ve played quite a bit better," Quattlebaum said Sunday. "I’m really looking forward to getting some of those teams we struggled with the first time (in the conference round-robin schedule). We want to see if we can’t improve and get some momentum going into the second Malvern game and then the regional and state tournament."
CAC was 14-3 overall, 6-1 in the 7-4A conference, heading into Tuesday’s game against Arkansas Baptist. The Lady Mustangs will play host to Nashville on Friday and travel to Pulaski Robinson on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Malvern, the defending conference and Class 4A state champion, won the showdown at home Friday, 52-45.
"We had a chance to win it," Quattlebaum said. "We led at halftime. We got up six or eight in the second quarter but went through a spell of tough calls toward the end of the first half when we had a chance to stretch the lead."
Falan Miller picked up her third foul less than a minute before halftime, forcing the Lady Mustangs to go to a zone defense after the break.
"One of their shooters got hot, and they outscored us 18-9 in the third quarter," Quattlebaum said. "In the last two or three minutes of the first half, we went from up six or seven to a two-point lead at halftime after they scored at the buzzer to cut it to two.
"If a couple of calls go the other way, we’re up eight or 10 at the half instead of two. We lost a little momentum. They got hot and hit a couple of 3s and they got the lead up to 12 or 13 in the second half. We got it back to seven, which could be big if we get to a tiebreaker."
Malvern had three scorers in double figures. CAC got 17 points from Sydnie Jones and 14 from Miller.
The Lady Mustangs prepped for Malvern with a 49-29 win over Ashdown, during which they were able to rest Miller, who had been plagued by a bad ankle.
"We played a really good defensive game," Quattlebaum said. "We probably could’ve held them under 20, but we subbed the whole fourth quarter."
Sarah Butler hit five 3-point shots en route to a 23-point performance. Jones added 11.
Coming up, Quattlebaum hopes to measure his team’s progress since its 35-30 win at Nashville. He said he was a bit concerned about the Feb. 4 trip to Robinson, which stands third in the league standings behind Malvern and CAC.
"We haven’t played very well over there before," said Quattlebaum, whose team rolled over the Lady Senators at Mustang Mountain, 58-23. "They’re the one I’m most worried about other than Malvern, although they got beat by Baptist. It’ll be tougher over there."