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Kats get first CUSA win in thriller against WKU

Feb. 1—HUNTSVILLE — Coming off a disappointing loss to UTEP on Saturday, Sam Houston still needed to stop its 10-game skid, that has stretched from Dec. 16, 2023.

While the Kats never led the game in regulation, a 27-point fourth quarter erased an 18-point lead to tie the game at 72. With an extra five minutes on the clock, the Bearkats pulled out their first Conference USA win with an 87-81 overtime thriller against Western Kentucky.

"We are a fourth-quarter team, and I tell anybody that. We always get hot in the fourth quarter, sometimes it's not a good thing because we are digging ourselves out of holes," Sam Houston head coach Ravon Justice said. "The team stays resilient and want to win."

Entering the final frame, Sam Houston was faced with a 14-point deficit and outside of a few runs, no life. With 7:57 left in the fourth, the Lady Toppers held an 18-point lead their largest of the night.

But Sam Houston's defense was continued to fight.

WKU was held scoreless from the 7:11 mark until a three-pointer from WKU's junior Alexis Mead ended the Bearkats' 14-0 run. By then, it was already a two-point as the Kats continued to close in.

Bearkat junior guard Sydnee Kemp played a big role in the Bearkats' ability to get back in the game. She had 13 of her 19 points come in the fourth quarter and overtime. In the extra five minutes, Kemp had eight of the Kats 15 points.

"It's just one, they were the third-place team in the conference and a really good team. We came out here and pulled one out. It showed we can compete with anyone in this conference, even though we are low on numbers," Kemp said. "We are the new kids in the conference, but we can compete with anybody in the conference with our hard work."

Maybe the most impressive part of the night was the Kats ability to do it with a limited bench. Diana Rosenthal is no longer with the team, which left the team with a nine person roster. The Kats had little to no error for injuries and fouls with that but it didn't matter.

Junior guard Kassidy Dixon went off in the fourth quarter tallying eight points in six minutes before a controversial foul ended her evening.

Once she fouled out, it became a battle of seven for Sam Houston. One of those members was junior Diarrah Sissko who came alive. Sissko played 22 minutes for the Kats but went down with a non-contact injury in the third quarter and played four minutes in the second half.

Her injury kept her limited but she was able to fight through it, especially once senior Shanti Henry fouled out of the game in overtime.

Henry joined Dixon on the bench, Sam Houston had seven members to choose from with sophomore Elena Houghton not even logging a full minute on the court.

"We've been playing with three less starters from the beginning," Justice said. "We have a lot of injuries so we don't talk about it. We just think of the next man up and everybody in practice gets reps to go win a basketball game."

Of the four seniors on the team Kaylee Jefferson has been around the longest and has played since the Southland days. Jefferson had the strongest outing with 26 points, going 4-7 from behind the arc and logging 45 minutes on the court for the Kats.

Jefferson has been a mainstay for the program and tonight her leadership prevailed when the team needed it.

"I didn't really notice it. My teammates instill a lot of confidence in me and tell me to shoot the ball. I'm just glad I had them getting me involved the whole game. I'm glad I was able to knock them down," Jefferson said. "I owe it all to my team."

Over the course of the season, Sam Houston hasn't caught very many breaks. Against UTEP, the Kats lost after having a seven-point lead against the Miners.

The closest game the Kats played in CUSA was Louisiana Tech, where they lost by four to open CUSA play. But they never gave up and relied on a new motto.

In practice, the Bearkats have started to break things up. They have started to look at it as four different 10 minute games, rather than one 40 minute game. Dividing it up gives the Kats the chance to push things behind them that are in the past and only focus on the future.

While they didn't win the first three quarters against WKU, they came through when it mattered the most in the fourth and overtime, all while keeping the first three close.

"Our mentality every day is hard work, attitude, effort and energy," Kemp said. "Our new motto is 10 minutes at a time. We can't worry about the second quarter in the second half, it's just 10 minutes each time. We tried to put it into four 10-minute games, and we've been successful."

Sam Houston will have another opportunity to add to its conference win total on Saturday against another top-three team in CUSA. The Kats will welcome Florida International to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum for another conference matchup. Tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m. with the game streaming on ESPN+.

With nine more CUSA games remaining, the Kats have an opportunity to build on their first win.

"It can just be momentum for us," Jefferson said. "Our whole coaching staff and team has been saying it just takes one. We are just hoping to build off this win and keep it rolling."