BILLINGS — It’s not uncommon that the Carroll College women’s basketball team gets off to a slow start.
The players know it and coach Rachelle Sayers knows it.
Especially when it comes to the NAIA National Tournament.
“We have been here a couple days and the kids are anxious to get on the floor,” Sayers said. “That’s typical for this type of tournament, but in the third quarter the kids came out really to go.”
But after about 20 minutes of play, the Saints stopped sputtering and turned into a well-oiled machine, running over the University of Pikeville 58-45 in the first round Thursday night.
Carroll’s slow start led to Pikeville (20-11) taking control early in the first quarter as it jumped out to a 6-2 lead.
Senior Hannah Dean missed a shot, followed by Brittney Johnson and then Danielle Wagner.
During the first five minutes the Saints shot just 16 percent from the field.
Freshman point guard Sienna Swannack responded with a runner in the lane, but the Bears kept pushing forward when Sierra Feltner hit a 3-pointer to take an 14-6 lead.
“It’s a whole new environment in here,” Wagner said of the NAIA Tournament. “You can say you are ready but until you get out there under those lights, you won’t know.”
While Carroll (26-7) normally plays at a methodical pace, Sayers let her team stretch the floor and push the tempo that led to easy buckets.
By the midway through the second half, a once eight-point deficit turned into just a one possession game.
“It was something we had to do,” Sayers said. “We are in our backyard and we are small. We aren’t necessarily going to shoot it quick but we need to get the ball moving.”
Soon enough, the Saints took the lead on two free throws by Dean.
Both teams exchanged the lead for the remaining five minutes before halftime, but Carroll held the momentum when Jaidyn Lyman ran the floor end-to-end and scored a layup as the buzzer sounded for halftime.
In the second half, Lyman and Wagner wanted to take over the game.
Lyman, served up a 3-pointer and then drove the lane.
Wagner made a fast break layup that came off of a steal from half court.
As minutes began to tick off, the slim lead turned into a massive 50-33 advantage.
“A lot of it had to do with being aggressive,” said Wagner, who finished with a game-high 16 points. “When we are aggressive, things happen for us.”
Pikeville gained its second wind a few minutes into the fourth quarter and got within nine points, but Carroll stopped any hope of a Bears upset when Johnson hit a 3-pointer.
A layup by Christine Denny sealed the game as the Saints moved onto the second round for the second time in as many years.
Carroll will play the winner of the Oklahoma City-Arizona Christian at 9:45 p.m. Friday
But Wagner doesn’t care who the next opponent is.
“We finally get to play different teams,” Wagner said. “They don’t know our offense and we don’t know theirs. We have to get ready to get out there and play and get better for tomorrow.”