Bluejay women impressive in two KCAC road wins

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor Bluejay women took care of business Saturday night with an impressive 66-49 win over a much-improved Kansas Wesleyan.

Unlike their first encounter, the Coyotes handled the Bluejay pressure better and actually made Tabor earn the victory.

The Bluejays led early, but a Victoria Gillett basket at the 13:48 mark gave the Coyotes their first and only lead of the night.

Gillett almost single-handedly kept Kansas Wesleyan in the game, pouring in 18 first-half points.

Trailing by a single point, Tabor coach Rusty Allen called for more defensive intensity, but the Coyotes were more than ready for the tactic.

“They beat us with a couple of backdoor cuts and then they beat us on a couple of long passes with our hard press,” Allen said. “They handled our pressure much better.”

With the Coyotes still lurking in the shadows at 18-16, Tabor finally found a little breathing room, if only momentarily.

A traditional three-point play by Jill Hein, a pair of free throws from Angela Kroeker and a basket by freshman Jessica Vineyard put the Bluejays in front, 25-16, as Kansas Wesleyan had no answer for Tabor’s strong inside game.

But Tabor’s nine-point lead quickly vanished as the Coyotes fought back-unlike previous years when an opponent’s run would signal their demise.

Gillett scored consecutive baskets and Amber Canterbury added one and the Coyotes were back in contention at 25-21 with 2:24 remaining.

“We felt like we could take advantage of them without having to work at it,” Allen said. “I think they were using our own pressure against us and it was opening things up for them.”

Tabor looked inside, once again calling upon the athleticism of Hein. The sophomore responded with four more points followed by an Amber McKillip put-back and Tabor’s lead once again swelled to seven at 31-24.

A final desperation heave was on the mark by Gillett at the buzzer and the teams headed into the lock room with Tabor on top 31-27.

In a strange twist of events, Allen and his staff actually called for the Bluejays to relax their pressure in the second stanza.

The ploy worked.

“We went to our more conservative man-to-man defense with a focus on closing out guard penetration,” Allen said. “Offensively, we talked about cutting hard off our picks so when we caught the ball, we’d have some room to break the defense down and be patient with our game.”

Tabor dominated the game in every respect at the start of the half, and left the Coyotes running with their tails between their legs.

Tabor used a 17-0 blitz to transform a 39-31 lead with 15:02 to play into a 56-31 lead with 9:23 remaining.

Offensively, the Bluejays hit an identical 13 of 23 shots in each half (56.5 percent), but it was on the defensive end that dividends were reaped.

Kansas Wesleyan connected on 42 percent of their first half shots, but hit just eight of 34 in the second half (23.5).

Gillet’s production dropped from 18 first-half points to just four in the second half.

With the game safely in hand, Allen gave his reserves ample playing time down the stretch, allowing the Coyotes to make the final margin a more respectable 17 points.

Balance was once again the Bluejays’ staple as four players scored in double figures.

Erica Hemmert led the way with 14 points while Hein scored 13, Vineyard 12, and Rachelle Wertenberger 10.

With the win, Tabor improved to 11-9 overall and evened its conference record at 5-5.

Gillett was the lone Coyote in double figures with 22 points as Kansas Wesleyan fell to 3-15 overall and 0-9 in KCAC play.

Friends- A Jill Hein basket just 10 seconds into the game might well have signaled a Tabor storm was about to break.

Hein poured in a career-high 22 points Thursday in Tabor’s impressive 66-42 win over an injury-depleted Friends team that suited just nine players.

“Coming in I thought they could give us everything we wanted,” coach Rusty Allen said. “I thought this would be a battle and we prepared for it that way.”

Early indications were that the Bluejays were indeed in for a fight with the Falcons, who entered the game with 3-5 KCAC record just like Tabor.

Behind the one-two punch of 6-foot sophomore Kristen Welk and 5-9 junior Jerea Whitney, who combined for 13 points, the Falcons hung with the Bluejays in the early going.

When Whitney made a layup with 14:37 to play in the half, the Falcons took their first lead of the game at 13-12.

But the Bluejays’ depth makes them a very strong team. Tabor’s bench scored the next eight points as Tabor bolted to a 20-13 lead with 7:01 to play.

Allen said it was his team’s defense that turned the game around.

“They don’t have good depth,” Allen said. “Our defensive pressure up and down the court finally began to wear them down.”

After Friends had clawed its way back to within one, 20-19, Hein scored seven straight points in an 11-0 Bluejay run that staked Tabor to a 31-19 halftime lead.

“We began to get real easy shots, they started putting us on the foul line, and we made nine of 10 first-half free throws,” Allen said.

He said finishing the half so impressively tempted his team to become overconfident.

“What happens in a game like this is that you feel like you’re dominating and go for the jugular right away down the court instead of being patient and doing what got you there,” he said. “We warned them, but sure enough we came out and did just exactly that and they began chipping away at our lead.”

The result was a Friends run that brought them to within six points of Tabor at 33-27 with 17:11 to play.

Following a quick timeout, it was business as usual, or at least as it had been at the end of the first half.

Once again sparking the Tabor surge was their overwhelming defense and sensational free-throw shooting.

The Bluejays finished the night hitting 19 of 22 free throws (86.4 percent) while the defense set up numerous offensive opportunities.

Hein was the primary beneficiary .

“They tried everything-they guarded Jill with their three, four and five spots but she just had such a variety to her game they couldn’t stop her,” Allen said. “She posted them, drove on them, and even stepped out and hit the 3. I thought the variety in her game tonight was just great.”

When thunder had subsided, the Bluejays had transformed a modest 43-35 lead with 11:43 to play into a comfortable 58-35 lead with 6:18 left in the game.

With its lead safely in hand, Tabor cruised home with the victory, capped by a long 3-pointer by Heather Handley at the game’s conclusion which was symbolic of Tabor’s dominating depth. The Bluejay bench outscored Friends’ 27-6.

For the game, Tabor hit 49 percent of its field-goal attempts (22-45) and three of eight 3-pointers.

Friends, meanwhile, hit just 29 percent of its shots (16-55) including a paltry two of 16 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Hein made nine of 17 shots from the floor, including one of two 3-point attempts for her game-high 22 points.

Nicole Ellis came off the bench to score 12 points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 from the foul stripe.

Welk led the Falcons with 15 points.

With the win, the Bluejays improved to 10-9 overall and 4-5 in KCAC play while the Falcons fell to 3-6 in the conference and 5-14 overall.

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