FLORENCE — An aggressive mentality paid off for the North Alabama women Saturday afternoon.
The Lions took the ball right at West Alabama, which resulted in good looks inside and plenty of free-throw opportunities. UNA made the most of those opportunities to claim a 66-58 victory over the Tigers.
Junior center Nichelle Fillmore scored a career-high 23 points to lead UNA (13-6, 6-3).
“The key for us was just playing hard,” Fillmore said. “At times we don’t play with the energy we need, but today we had a lot of energy from the start.”
Junior forward Mekena Randle added 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds for the Lions.
UNA shot just 36.8 percent from the field but was able to get to the free-throw line consistently. The Lions made 21 of 27 at the line, while West Alabama (8-9, 3-6) hit 3 of 8.
“Our plan was to be aggressive and take it inside,” coach Terry Fowler said. “I thought we could get the ball to Nichelle and she had an extra gear today. She did a great job taking the ball to the other side and finishing.”
West Alabama led 33-28 early in the second half before UNA went on a run. Lauren Faris had bookend 3-pointers in an 8-0 spurt that put the Lions up 42-35 with 14:19 remaining. UNA would not trail again.
The Lions extended the lead to 51-42 on a trey by Abby Andrews. The Tigers responded with a 9-2 spurt to make it a two-point game with 4:36 remaining.
“We seemed to get a little comfortable at times when we stretched the lead,” Fillmore said. “We relaxed and little and were not able to put them away. We have to learn to keep pushing.”
UNA got the lead back to 58-51 after Randle scored on a putback. West Alabama got a 3-pointer from Brittany Weathers to again pull within two at 60-58 with 1:40 to play.
The Lions put it away by making six consecutive free throws in the final minute. Sarah Bailey hit the first two and Faris made four straight to seal the win.
Fillmore scored 15 points in the first half as the lead went back and forth. The Lions hurt themselves with 11 turnovers in the half and gave up 10 offensive rebounds to the Tigers, who took a 30-28 lead into halftime.
“We started out tentative and the turnovers killed us,” Fowler said. “The points they got off the offensive rebounds were the key. We started blocking out better to start the second half.”
Faris finished with 12 points for UNA. Nikkia Jordan led West Alabama with 16 points.
UNA will play at West Florida on Thursday.
“We’ve got a big road trip coming up,” Fowler said. “We’re 3-1 on the road in conference games so far and we need to have that same mentality on this trip.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.