BEL-NOR • Columbia Hickman junior guard Taylor Spencer was well aware of the Incarnate Word basketball legacy.
And the 5-foot-4-inch sparkplug couldn't wait to see the Red Knights in person.
"They're really good," Spencer said. "Just to be able to play them, we knew it would be exciting."
Spencer made it exciting - but not for IWA.
Spencer calmly drilled back-to-back 3-pointers in a 58-second span in the fourth quarter to lead the Kewpies to a 56-49 win in an early-season battle of ranked teams in downtown Bel-Nor.
Hickman (5-0), rated No. 4 in the latest Class 5 state-wide poll, took charge down the stretch with an 8-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 46-39 lead.
IWA (3-1), ranked third in Class 4, had won its first three games by a total of 118 points.
But the Red Knights couldn't buy a basket when it counted most, going 4 minutes and 6 seconds without a field goal during crunch time.
"There were so many little detail things that we missed," IWA coach Dan Rolfes said. "Our kids just weren't willing to step up and take that charge, or work to get that offensive rebound. It's just adds up."
Hickman was more than happy to make the 120-mile trek to the St. Louis-area to face a quality opponent.
"There are games that you circle on the calendar and this was for sure one of them," Hickman coach Anna Rorvig said. "You're always looking for a good test, especially on the road."
IWA, which has won seven state titles - the last in 2015 - zipped out to a 10-point lead in the second quarter before Hickman began chipping away.
The Kewpies, who trailed 22-17 at the break, used a 16-4 run to go up 35-29 on a short jumper by Danni Nichols with 1:41 left in the period.
The Red Knights fought back to tie on back-to-back baskets by junior Nakayla Jackson-Morris and took a 39-38 lead on two foul shots by junior Sonya Morris with 6:40 left in the contest.
Spencer took over from there with a pair of deadly triples.
"She's the kind of player that can change a game when she's shooting like that," said Nichols, who finished with 16 points.
Senior Nyjah White, who led all scorers with 21 points, followed with a short jumper from inside the lane for a 46-39 lead.
IWA battled back to within 52-49 on a pair of foul shots by Kiki Britzmann. But Hickman hit its final eight free throws including six in the closing 1:04.
"They just executed their plays," said Sonya Morris, who led her team with 18 points, "Whenever we didn't execute, they capitalized on it."
Rolfes lamented his team's struggles on the defensive end.
"We missed an assignment and they get a three (pointer)," he said. "They come down and we let them do it again. Our kids just didn't get out there, didn't close out and communicate."
The Red Knights received the top seed in the traditionally-tough Visitation Christmas Tournament. Rolfes and his players are looking forward to another challenge against top-quality opposition.
"Hopefully, we'll learn from this loss," he said.
Added Morris, "There were a lot of things that we know we can do better. We'll fix it."