ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
When you lose to the No. 3 team in the country by only seven points, 62-55, and show as much heart as the Tabor women did Saturday against Bethany, you have reason to smile.
“We really played with a lot of determination, and for the majority of the game, we played with a lot of confidence,” coach Rusty Allen said afterward.
Early, it looked as if Bethany would illustrate why it’s so highly ranked in the NAIA Division II.
Jodi Strathman, last week’s KCAC player of the week, canned a shot from the wing to ignite a 7-0 run by Bethany to start the game.
Tabor finally got on the board when Casey Stucky scored.
Bethany came right back with a basket, but the 9-2 lead would be the biggest the Swedes would enjoy in the half.
“We did thing that we’ve been practicing more consistently,” Allen said. “That’s why we were able to compete so effectively with a great team.”
Tabor used smothering defense to limit the opportunities of Strathman, who entered the game averaging nearly 16 points a game.
“We got real determined not to let Strathman catch the ball in medium range,” Allen said. “She’s really tough when she catches it there. The other thing we did was to not let her have easy offensive rebounds.
“Angela Kroeker did a great job on her, and Angela had some help, but she was the go-to-guy tonight and she really played a great defensive game.”
When Stucky nailed a jumper on an assist from Jill Hein with 2:40 to play before intermission, Tabor tied the game 26-26.
Two 3-pointers by Strathman enabled Bethany to take a 32-26 lead into the locker room.
The team battled evenly until about eight minutes remained. Leading 51-45, Bethany made Swedish meatballs of the Bluejays with an 11-0 surge.
Jill Nech, 6-2 junior, was pivotal in the run, scoring six points. Nech would finish the game with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor.
But Tabor refused to call it a night even though the team trailed by 17 points with 4:24 to play.
While holding the high-powered Swedes scoreless for the rest of the game, the Bluejays scored 10 straight points.
“Other than that (11-0 Bethany run), we obviously outplayed them,” Allen said. “But that’s why you play a 40-minute game.”
Stucky led the Bluejays with 15 points and Shannon Kroeker added 11, including all three of her 3-point shots.
Besides Nech, Archer scored 12 for Bethany. Strathman was held to just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field.
“We had a lot of people play a great defensive game,” Allen said.
Tabor was out-rebounded, 33-26, while hitting just 44 percent of its shots. The Swedes shot 45.5 percent.
“We played a great team and competed with them really hard, and I think we learned a little bit more about our team,” Allen said.
“We made a little bit more progress and have to feel good about that and take one game at a time.
“We still have a great chance to finish in the top three or four in the conference, and that’s our goal.”
Tabor 76, McPherson 41
The Bluejays rebounded quite well Thursday from a tough loss to Sterling the previous Saturday.
How well did they rebound?
By a score of 76-41, and staggering 57-31 advantage on the boards.
“I told Shawn (Winter, assistant coach), it seems like every time we missed, we got the ball back,” coach Rusty Allen said. “We had people just committed to going and getting the basketball.”
Allen wasn’t sure which Bulldog team his Bluejays would face-the one that had defeated nationally ranked Sterling last week, or the one Tabor defeated by 19 earlier in the season.
It didn’t take too long to figure that one out.
Tabor’s trademark pressure defense stifled the Bulldogs early on. Jill Hein was Tabor’s bulldog on defense, snatching four first-half steals.
In all, Tabor collected nine steals and forced 12 turnovers in the first half while committing only six turnovers of their own.
Tabor methodically built its lead to 24-9 with 7:41 to play in the half. But McPherson managed one last rally to pull to within nine, 29-20, with 2:00 left in the half.
Casey Stucky scored the last of her 10 first-half points with 14 seconds left to play to push the lead back to double digits.
“(Stucky’s shot) definitely bolstered our momentum,” Allen said. “I thought we concentrated really well and it was nice to get that basket.”
Tabor led 31-20 at the half, and little did anyone know the visiting Bulldogs would get no closer.
Over the first 11 minutes of the second half, Tabor dominated play on both ends of the court. The result was a 26-7 surge that gave Tabor 57-27 lead with just over nine minutes to play.
In the process, Tabor ran its offense to near perfection.
“We worked really hard this week on keeping our offense spread out and being more disciplined,” Allen said.”They were either going to give us the 3-point shot, or they’re going to scramble and we’re going to get dribble penetration. Both things happened quite a bit.”
As in games previous, Tabor got a lot of help from the bench. Leading the way was junior Amber McKillip, who played her finest game of the year. The Wauneta, Neb. native scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.
“What more could you ask for coming off the bench?” Allen said. “Amber took the ball strong to the basket, she made free throws, she defended, and she rebounded. She was on top of her game tonight, and I was really proud of her.”
Also contributing mightily as a reserve was Rachelle Wertenberger.
“She gave every ounce of effort in her on defense,” Allen said. “She was determined to play, and I thought she had a great game.”
Contributing another all-conference performance was Stucky, who did everything but sing the national anthem.
Wait. She did that too.
Showing she’s multi-talented, the Wichita junior offered a beautiful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” prior to the men’s contest.
Stucky grabbed a team-high nine boards and scored 12 points.
Tabor connected 43 percent of its shots, and smothered McPherson into shooting only 20 percent.
The Bluejays, continuing their unselfish passing, were credited with 19 assists, with Carmen Hein and Stucky each distributing four.
“We passed the ball really well,” Allen said. “We passed well in transition and we handled the ball well, too.”
“I liked the way we executed.”
Coming-Tabor will carry an 11-11 overall record and a 6-6 mark in the KCAC into Thursday’s home game against Bethel. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
On Saturday, Tabor will travel to Ottawa to take on the Braves starting at 5 p.m.