By BRIAN LESTER
Perhaps if the first half had played out differently against Wayne State Saturday afternoon, the outcome would have been different.
As it was, the Oilers trailed by nine at the break, and despite nearly rallying for a win in the second half, they came up short against the Warriors falling 86-80 in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game at Croy Gymnasium.
The Oilers were down 44-35 at the half and got within two at 82-80 on a jumper by Nikki Gunning with 32.5 seconds to play before the Warriors pulled away.
“Against a good team like that, you can’t dig a hole,” UF head coach Jim Wiedie said. “Margaret (Wuebker) fouling out hurt us and we had some players out of position at the end. I’m really proud of how we battled, but you can’t wait until the last 20 minutes to play against a good team.”
The Oilers gave up four quick points to start the second half, falling behind 48-35, and were down 60-46 with 12:50 left after Shareta Brown scored on a layup.
It wasn’t long before the Oilers began their comeback attempt against a Warriors team that knocked them out of the NCAA Division II tournament last season.
Kaleigh Kenny nailed a 3-pointer that cut the WSU lead to 61-51 and back-to-back layups by Wuebker trimmed the advantage to 61-55.
Karli Bonar’s 3-pointer sliced the lead to 64-60 with 8:50 remaining and the Oilers (6-6, 3-5 GLIAC) stayed within a possession over the next few minutes as they pushed the Warriors (11-1, 8-0) to the brink of their first conference loss.
WSU pulled in front 79-74 with just over two minutes to go but Lacey Kessler hit two free throws, Ashley Andrews came through with a layup and Gunning hit her jumper to slice the lead to 82-80.
“We made some adjustments in the press, we tweaked our lineup a bit, and the intensity level was so much better in the second half,” Wiedie said. “Down the stretch, we executed the sets we wanted to run. We just didn’t get enough shots to fall in the end.”
Brown, who imposed her will inside, finished off the Oilers with four straight free throws. She scored 21 points and pulled down eight rebounds.
The Warriors shot a sizzling 66 percent (31-of-47) from the field and got 22 points out of Imari Redfield. Lena Thomas and Ondrea Hughes scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The Oilers shot 44.8 percent (30-of-67) from the floor and got 18 points from Wuebker, who fouled out with just under six minutes left and the Oilers trailing 71-67.
Kenny and Ciara Geiger scored 11 points apiece.
The Oilers had trouble slowing down the Warriors’ offensive attack. WSU shot 68 percent from the field in the first half and made six 3-pointers to highlight the shooting effort.
“That is the big difference with Wayne State this year. They are a much better 3-point shooting team,” Wiedie said. “But we didn’t play hard in the first half. I don’t know if we were scared, or worried about how quick they were or tired, but we were not active enough.”
Still, he was pleased with the effort by the Oilers, who scored 24 points off 23 turnovers.
“I’d be concerned if we weren’t battling, if we weren’t competing hard,” Wiedie said. “We’re still not shooting the ball that well, but we did a little better. We start (GLIAC) South play now, and it’s a whole new season for us.”
UF returns to action Thursday in a 5:30 p.m. game against Ohio Dominican (4-8, 1-7) in Columbus.
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.