Cold start dooms Bluejay women in loss at Ottawa

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor women’s team had another up-and-down, soaring to a win against McPherson on Thursday, then hitting the skids against an undefeated Ottawa squad.

McPherson-Tabor coach Rusty Allen said early in the season, his team needed one good victory at a time to build a wave of momentum.

Last week’s win over ninth-ranked Concordia University might have been just what the doctor ordered.

The Bluejays had little trouble, if any, disposing of McPherson Thursday, 72-57, in a game that might have been virtually over by halftime if Tabor hadn’t struggled from the free throw line, where it hit just eight of 22 attempts.

During the first 20 minutes, the Bluejays’ pressure defense befuddled the Bulldogs into 20 first-half turnovers and 14 steals for Tabor.

“We could have had a huge lead if we could have made free throws,” Allen said. “I would say we definitely dominated.”

Actually, the opening half was a back-and-forth battle with lead changes and five ties.

McPherson grabbed its largest lead of the half at 6-2 with 17:17 to play. But Tabor, behind the dead eye shooting of senior Rachelle Wertenberger, battled back with a 14-4 run over the next eight minutes to grab its largest lead of the half with 9:04 to play.

The Bulldogs obviously were trying to stop Erica Hemmert, Tabor’s leading scorer. That strategy worked for a half.

“They shadowed her and kept her from catching the ball at good spots on the court,” Allen said. “They had their best defender on her and stopped her dribble penetration. Erica eventually did better in the second half and let the game come to her.”

The half ended when Wertenberger hit a short jumper on an assist by LaTasha Townsend. The shot gave Wertenberger 10 points in the half and Tabor a 30-27 lead.

The Bluejays committed turnovers on their first three possessions of the second half, and McPherson cashed them in for eight points.

After a vigorous timeout by Allen, the Bluejays battled McPherson during the next several minutes on even terms. But the Bulldogs claimed their largest lead of the game at 42-36 with 14:48 to play.

From then on, Tabor’s resilience and depth began to pay dividends. Over the next 4:46, the Bluejays put together an 11-0 run to post a 47-42.

Hemmert connected on a 3-point shot and two free throws to key the surge that finally ended when Brenna Schierling nailed a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs.

But as quickly as the Tabor run ended, another one began.

Leading 47-45, the Bluejays took off on an 11-0 run to take control of the game, 58-45, with 6:36 to go.

At the middle of this run was Townsend, who broke out of her recent struggles to score seven points, grab four rebounds and block two shots.

“LaTasha has been kind of down, trying to get her game back in order, but I thought she did a great job tonight,” Allen said. “When you’re a senior, you find ways to get back into focus.”

Leading by 13 points, the Bluejays coasted to their second conference victory in five tries, 72-57.

Depth was integral to Tabor’s success.

“We absolutely wore them down,” Allen said. “When you have depth, it likely brings a little bit different minutes for certain players and a little bit different production for certain players.

“Depending on the game, I told them they have to prepare themselves for what the game gives and play as a team and not as individuals.”

Tabor was led in scoring by Wertenberger, who scored 18 points on seven of eight field-goal attempts, including four of four from behind the arc.

Hemmert added 12 points, all in the second half, and Trixsi Odom scored 10 points.

The Bluejays recoiled and hit 15 of 19 second-half free throws, but managed just 23 of 41 for the game for 56 percent.

The Bluejays bench came up big with 30 points after contributing 23 against Concordia.

Tabor did well on the boards, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 38-30. Wertenberger led with seven.

The Bluejay defense contributed to 31 Bulldog turnovers.

With the win, Tabor improved its record to 8-7 overall and 2-3 in conference play.

Allen said he thinks his team may have found the winning formula after two straight victories.

“We just need to take care of the basketball, play solid defense, and rebound like we did tonight to be successful.”

Ottawa-It wasn’t that Tabor didn’t try, didn’t hustle, or wasn’t focused on the task at hand. Ottawa was just pretty darn good, as the 68-48 final score proved.

“I don’t think I can say we played a good game, but we probably played as good of a game as they did,” coach Rusty Allen said. “Tonight they were just the better team.”

The Bluejays began the game with a Rachelle Wertenberger field goal to lead 2-0. But when Gina Wheat connected on a 3-point attempt with 16:50 to play in the first half, it signaled the last time Tabor would hold the lead.

The Bluejays struggled to find the bottom of the basket almost the entire evening. The result was a quick 14-point Ottawa lead, 22-8, with 9:57 left in the half.

Allen said his team didn’t play badly on offense, nor did the Braves play that great. Rather, the problem was what happened after a shot was launched.

“We got as many offensive rebounds as they did, but they put theirs back in for points and we didn’t,” Allen said. “I probably underestimated their inside play a little bit.”

Ottawa was buoyed in the half by the inside-outside play of 6-1 center Amber Lannan, who scored 10 points, and All-KCAC guard Wheat, who added nine.

Allen said his team didn’t struggle getting a decent shot-his players just couldn’t hit them.

The result was a 38-22 halftime deficit, a product of 29 percent shooting, while the Braves hit 50 percent of their attempts.

In the same sense, Allen’s team didn’t commit a lot of turnovers, but the ones they committed turned into Ottawa points.

“If you look at their shots from the field, they didn’t hit theirs any better than we did,” Allen said. “They just rebounded and got points off of those rebounds, and they were finishing steals and we didn’t.”

Allen said the Braves neutralized Tabor’s quickness.

“They matched our quickness and then some,” he said. “That’s an advantage we usually rely upon.”

Allen and his staff made adjustments in the halftime locker room.

“We emphasized not allowing dribble penetration,” Allen said. “For the first five to eight minutes, they didn’t get any good looks.

“On the other end, we played with more poise than we did at the start and we started making shots.”

All this added up to a 9-0 Bluejay run, cutting the Braves lead to just seven points.

But just as quickly as Tabor’s shooting stroke appeared, it vanished again like a smoke signal in a thunderstorm.

Ottawa transformed a 38-31 lead with 16:38 remaining to a commanding 60-36 lead with just 7:24 to play.

“Their pressure bothered us, but I think both teams played hard defensively,” Allen said.

“I think it had us out of our rhythm.”

The Bluejays never got closer than 19 points the rest of the contest, and eventually fell to the KCAC-leading Braves, 68-48.

Tabor finished with 31 percent shooting, while Ottawa connected on 47.5 percent.

Rachelle Wertenberger was the lone Bluejay to reach double figures, scoring 12 points.

Wheat led the Braves with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Lannan added 17 points.

Ottawa also won the battle of the boards, 42-35.

Wertenberger and Angela Kroeker led Tabor in rebounding with five each.

Compounding Tabor’s rebounding struggle was the absence of Jessica Vineyard, who didn’t make the trip because of recurring back problems.

Ottawa moved to 12-3 overall and 5-0 in the KCAC. The Bluejays slipped to 2-4 in conference play and evened their season record at 8-8.

“In general, they’re the best team we’ve played,” Allen said. “Every loss is disappointing, but I feel we were ready to play and we did a lot of things well.”

Coming-The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Tabor women as they play host to Southwestern, who entered the weekend ranked eighth in the nation with a 14-1 record.

“They’ve got a really physical team,” Allen said. “I think we’ll be able to use our quickness to a big advantage against them as we have in most of our games.

“But if we don’t come prepared and we let them knock us around inside, we could get beat up,” he added.

“But we have three days to prepare, nothing to lose, and it’s at home, so I think we’ll be ready.”

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