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Lady Cats Build NAIA Respect in Dakota State Classic

Dec 02, 2023

Kayley Frank

Madison, SD - With the College of the Ozarks officially back in the NAIA in 2023-24, Lady Cat Head Coach Becky Mullis has been intent on returning the program to its previously owned level of national respect. While receiving top 25 votes throughout the young season, the Lady Cats have yet to crack the rankings, and the Dakota State Classic was one step taken in the mission to change that.

C of O vs Dakota State University – Friday, December 1
The Lady Cats were set to take on the host, Dakota State University Trojans, ranked #15 in the latest NAIA poll. 

The Trojans jumped on top with a quick three on the opening possession and the Lady Cats answered with a Susie Moran two. Another quick three by DSU set the tone and the Lady Cats were in an early hole. Kayley Frank dropped in the first two points of her career high 35, and the gap was cut to 6-4 with 8:07 remaining in the opening frame. The Lady Cats were keeping pace with the home team but could not put together a run to take the lead. With 4:59 showing on the clock, Logan Jones scored from mid-range to even the score, 10-10. The Trojans quickly countered, and an 8-0 run set the Lady Cats back. Susie Moran broke the Lady Cat silence at the 3:37 mark, and Jones sank another bucket to trim the deficit. A pair of Frank free throws and a basket tied the score and a Frank basket at the 1:24 mark gave the Lady Cats their first lead. The Trojans answered with a three to regain the lead, but Frank scored to put the Lady Cats back on top with :40 left to play. A DSU three with :06 left in the quarter returned the lead to the home team as the buzzer sounded for the first quarter break.

Trailing 24-22, the Lady Cats were in a good spot against one of the top teams in the country. The Trojans scored the first points of the second quarter and the Lady Cats were fighting to stay close. Another DSU bucket was sandwiched between Frank and Moran baskets, and the Trojan lead was 28-26. A pair of Trojan free throws were offset by another Frank basket and a Blythe Benefield basket to tie the score, 30-30. Logan Jones added a bucket at the 6:37 mark to give the Lady Cats the lead. The Trojans answered the challenge again and a quick 9-0 run gave the home team the momentum and a 39-32 advantage. Susie Moran broke through for the Lady Cats and Kayley Frank followed with a basket of her own. A Trojan three was answered by an Avery Arnold shot from beyond the arc and the Lady Cats were within three, 42-39. The teams traded jabs as the clock ticked down, but a 7-0 run to end the half put the Trojans up 55-45 heading to the intermission.

With things slipping quickly to end the first half, the Lady Cats needed to bounce back in a hurry as the third quarter started. The Trojans had other plans and a deep three bumped the gap to 58-45. The Lady Cats were playing catch up now and a basket by Blythe Benefield and a three by Avery Arnold cut the deficit to 60-50 with 8:21 left in the period. Buckets by Moran and Frank cut the gap to single digits, but a pair of unanswered treys expanded the Trojan lead again. Despite points by Frank, Arnold, and Moran, the Lady Cats were unable to reduce the deficit, and the third quarter ended with the Trojans on top, 82-70.

With just ten minutes left to play, the Lady Cats had a lot of work to do. A Logan Jones basket cut the gap to 82-72, But the Trojans were determined to hold the Lady Cats at bay. Another 8-2 run spelled trouble and time was running out. While the Lady Cats had overcome the earlier Trojan bursts, time was going to be their enemy in this latest push. Frank and Moran teamed up to cut the gap, but with 6:31 left to play, the Lady Cats trailed 93-78. Frank and Keara Mattingly cut into the gap with a pair of baskets and the Trojans finally hit a dry spell of their own. Unfortunately, the Lady Cats were unable to capitalize, and Moran and Frank would put the only points on the board to answer a Trojan three. Time would expire and the Lady Cats took the 98-85 loss.  

While the result was not what the Lady Cats had desired, they knew they were only a small dry spell away from a different final score. Respect had been earned and the Lady Cats had a good evaluation point for where they need to be.

Kayley Frank led all scorers with her career high 35 points while playing all 40 minutes of the contest. Susie Moran recorded a double-double with 21 points and 18 rebounds, while Logan Jones added 13 points, both playing all 40 minutes in the game as well. Avery Arnold added eight points, Blythe Benefield chipped in six, and Keara Mattingley tacked on two in the loss.

C of O vs Dickinson State University – Saturday, December 2
The next contest would provide its own challenges as the Lady Cats were set to face a talented Dickinson State University squad.

The Lady Cats used buckets by Kayley Frank, Avery Arnold, and Susie Moran to jump out to an early 8-5 lead, but the Blue Hawks responded, and the battle was on. The teams traded points, and the lead, before DSU was able to build a 16-12 advantage. A Susie Moran basket and an Abbey Linville three tied the score at 17, but DSU answered again to regain the advantage. Logan Jones and Moran closed out the scoring in the opening frame, but the Blue Hawks hit a shot at the buzzer to take a 22-21 lead.

A DSU bucket on the opening possession of the second quarter bumped the lead to 24-21 but Logan Jones scored to cut the gap again. The teams continued trading jabs, but the Blue Hawks answered every Lady Cat challenge. A small run by DSU gave them an eight-point cushion and the Lady Cats needed to turn things around. An Avery Arnold three was followed by a Frank two, and Blythe Benefield connected from deep to tie the score again. Another Frank basket and an Arnold two gave the Lady Cats their biggest lead, 38-34. The Blue Hawks would add a bucket with :08 remaining to send the game to the intermission with the Lady Cats leading 38-36.

Susie Moran opened the scoring in the third period and Blythe Benefield added a basket to put the Lady Cats ahead, 42-36. DSU would not go away however, and a quick 6-0 run knotted the score at 42. Benefield broke the tie with a basket at the 7:19 mark and Kayley Frank added a bucket to bump the lead to 46-42. A Blue Hawk three and a quick two returned the lead to DSU and the tug of war was in full force. The lead went back and forth until a DSU three found the bottom of the net with 2:56 remaining in the frame. DSU would add another two and a three, while the Lady Cats were unable to keep pace. The Blue Hawks took a 60-53 lead to the quarter break and the Lady Cats needed to step up in the final quarter.

A DSU three out of the huddle spelled trouble for the Lady Cats and the tension began to mount. While there was tension and a sense of urgency, there was no panic on the side of the Lady Cats. They had been in this position before and they had confidence in their ability to come from behind. Kayley Frank put the wheels in motion with a basket and the defense stepped up on the other end. Another Frank basket was combined with a two by Susie Moran and the gap was cut to 63-59. The defense continued to hold and an Abbey Linville bucket at the 6:00 mark cut the deficit to 63-62. DSU scored their next points at the 5:30 mark, and Kayley Frank scored with 3:46 remaining to cut the gap back to 65-64. A Logan Jones bucket with 2:47 left put the Lady Cats back on top and she then nailed a pair of free throws to add to the lead. Susie Moran added a basket, and the Lady Cats were up 70-65 with 1:33 left to play. The Blue Hawks refused to concede and began to battle back. A pair of DSU threes returned the lead to the Blue Hawks and the pressure mounted. Trailing 71-70, and with :10 showing on the clock, Kayley Frank drained a free throw to tie the score. A Susie Moran steal as time expired sent the game to overtime.

Moran opened the scoring in the extra period and the Lady Cats had the upper hand. A pair of DSU free throws tied it again and the two teams were going at each other. A pair of Frank buckets were combined with a Logan Jones two and the Lady Cats jumped to a 79-73 lead. DSU scored to cut the lead, but a pair of Jones free throws bumped the score to 81-75. Jones closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws, with :20 remaining, and the defense did the rest.  A defensive rebound by Jones saw time expire and the Lady Cats took the 83-75 overtime win.

Kayley Frank recorded a double-double with 29 points and 10 assists in the win and Susie Moran logged yet another double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Logan Jones added 18 points and narrowly missed a double-double of her own with nine rebounds. Blythe Benefield added nine points and Avery Arnold and Abbey Linville tacked on seven and six points respectively.

The Lady Cats will be back in action at Keeter Gym on Wednesday, December 6 at 5:30 when they host St. Ambrose University.