ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Tabor was facing a McPherson team with a 5-8 conference record, but coach Rusty Allen knew any conference road game can be difficult.
“I always have concerns when we come to McPherson,” Allen said. “They’re good 3-point shooters, they play an up and down style and you just have to stay tough because usually in their gym, they’re going to make some runs.
“It’s my alma mater, so I have some extra incentive to win over here,” he added with a smile.
As things turned out, Allen and his Bluejays really never had to worry as Tabor jumped out to an early lead and finished with a comfortable 75-57 win.
Just 25 seconds into the contest, freshman Donya Anderson grabbed an errant Bluejay shot, put in the rebound, was fouled and converted on the old-fashioned 3-point play.
Anderson collaborated with Rachelle Wertenberger and Trixsi Odom in the first seven minutes of the game to stake the Bluejays to a 20-8 advantage.
To their credit, the Bulldogs battled back with a 17-9 run to cut Tabor’s lead to four, 29-25, with 6:18 to play in the half.
But senior Wertenberger led Tabor out of the doldrums with 12 first-half points and four assists while harassing the opposition into numerous turnovers and grabbing three steals.
“Rachelle really played well in the first half and she’s just so determined,” Allen said. “If there’s an athlete anywhere who has more determination than Rachelle, I’ve not seen her.”
Anderson also pumped in 12 first-half points as Tabor parlayed aggressive full-court pressure into a 17-4 run and a 46-29 lead at intermission.
“We scored several points off our defense,” Allen said. “That was a big part of our game plan because we knew their ball handlers weren’t nearly as quick as our guards, so we wanted to keep the pressure on them.”
Tabor’s advantage resulted in 26 first-half points off 15 McPherson turnovers.
With a 17-point lead, the Bluejays took care of business in the second half. McPherson couldn’t cut the gap to any fewer than 13 points.
Leading Tabor in the second half was Erica Hemmert, who hit four of five field-goal attempts on her way to a 16-point night.
But Allen said it was Anderson’s work under the basket that solidified the Bluejays on both ends of the court. The Ardmore, Okla., native hauled in a game-high nine rebounds.
“Donya had a great night on the boards, but what she does that probably helps our team the most is passing the ball,” he said. “She has an amazing sense of where people are on the court and she delivers the ball really quick to them.”
Also playing well for Tabor was the Bluejays’ spark plug, Odom, who finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
If the Bluejays had a weakness in the second half, it was ball handling. McPherson forced a helter-skelter pace down the stretch which resulted in 11 Tabor turnovers for the half and 19 in the game.
“We need to work on the opponent’s press in practice,” Allen said. “It wasn’t a matter of not handling it very well, we just hadn’t faced anything like this yet this year.”
Even so, Tabor cruised to the win.
“I told our players anytime you go on the road in the conference at this time in the season and win soundly like this, you have to feel good about it,” Allen said. “I think the games this week were a real grind.”
Hemmert and Wertenberger finished with a team-high 16 points, while Anderson added 12 and Odom 10.
Tabor dominated the boards with 47 rebounds to 36 for the Bulldogs.
The Bluejays shot 47 percent from the floor while holding McPherson to 34 percent for the game.
With the victory, Tabor maintains its hold on fourth place in the conference with an 8-6 record and raised its season record to 14-10. McPherson fell to 5-9 and 11-11.
“We’ve won six of our last seven and played pretty well overall except for the first half of the Sterling game,” Allen said. “I think everybody feels like we’ve been playing really well the past couple weeks.”
Sterling-It seemed like the Tabor women missed their wake up call for the first 10 minutes of their game Thursday night against 14th-ranked Sterling.
The result was a quick 13-point Warrior lead from which Tabor struggled to recover from the entire game, eventually leading to a 59-53 Sterling victory.
“I don’t know why or what it was, but somehow we just weren’t quite ready,” coach Rusty Allen said. “I think it has something to do with playing on the road, but I think it has more to do with the quality of team Sterling has.
“Their preparation was good and we didn’t react,” he added. “We have to realize that if both teams played their best basketball, I think it’s a toss-up who wins, so we can’t afford not to play a complete game.”
Jill Hein scored four quick points in the game’s first two minutes for a 4-2 Tabor lead. But over the next 11 minutes, Tabor’s only score was a 3-pointer by Rachelle Wertenberger, and the Bluejays trailed, 19-7.
“We came out lethargic on offense for some reason,” Allen said. “We didn’t cut hard on offense, and we didn’t handle the ball with authority.
“Defensively, we didn’t seem to anticipate, we weren’t quick to make plays, in help defense, in denial, and we weren’t quick in guarding the ball,” he added.
“We just weren’t very tough at all in the first half.”
After Sterling pushed the lead to 22-9 with 7:13 to play, the alarm clock finally rang for Tabor and the Bluejays went on a 7-1 run over the next 21/2 minutes to cut the lead to 23-16 with 4:38 to play in the half.
“Sterling probably fatigued a little bit and gave us some opportunities,” Allen said. “We finally found a little bit of rhythm and I think our zone defense gave them trouble.”
The rest of the half saw the lead see-saw between seven and nine points. By halftime, the score was 31-22.
“At halftime we talked about being tougher and not being soft,” Allen said. “We talked about cutting harder, quicker and not dancing around someone if they got in our way.
“Defensively, we talked about how they were the aggressors for the first 10 minutes of the half and not us,” he added.
After Amanda Owens connected on a pair of charity tosses in the first minute of the second half to push the Warrior lead to 33-22, Tabor began its quest for the lead.
A pair of baskets by Erica Hemmert, and solo hoops by Hein and Angela Kroeker produced an 8-0 spurt that sliced Sterling’s lead to 33-30 with 15:38 to play.
But just when the Bluejays looked as if they were ready to soar, icy conditions grounded them.
Five consecutive defensive stops by Tabor gave the Bluejays ample opportunity to catch the Warriors, but Tabor’s offense was inefficient at best.
Instead, Tabor turned the ball over on three occasions and missed two shots on the others.
“In the end, that stretch was the key to the game,” Allen said. “We were legitimately stopping them, but we couldn’t make a basket to get us over the hump.”
Given a break, Sterling began scoring on their end of the court. A 12-4 run by the Warriors pushed the lead back to 45-34 with 8:43 to play, and the Bluejays were left climbing uphill.
But to their credit, the Jays didn’t fold. Behind the shooting of Hemmert, Hein and a 3-point basket by Wertenberger, Tabor cut the lead back to 56-53 with 56 seconds left in the game-and the Bluejays had possession of the basketball.
But Tabor missed a shot and Sterling grabbed the rebound and scored on an Amy Anderson jumper from the baseline to push the lead back to 58-53.
A late free throw by Sterling settled the final victory margin.
Hemmert led Tabor with 19 points and Hein added 14. The Bluejays shot just under 40 percent from the floor while limiting the Warriors to 42 percent.
Tabor committed 20 turnovers and Sterling 16.
As seems to be the case at Sterling, the Warriors took numerous more trips to the free-throw line than Tabor, hitting 14 of 25 attempts while Tabor made nine of 10.
“I told the players that had we not bounced back and had such a good second half, I would have felt like we took a step backward,” Allen said. “But it is possible to lose and not take a step backward.
“If we just concentrate on the things we did well in the second half, I think we can say we gained something from this game.”
The loss snapped the Bluejays’ five-game winning streak.
Coming-Tabor will battle third-place Ottawa Thursday in Hillsboro. The Braves defeated the Bluejays 68-48 Jan. 10 in Hillsboro.
On Saturday, Tabor travels to conference leading Southwestern at Winfield on Saturday night.
“We had arguably our worst game of the year against Ottawa,” Allen said. “I think there’s a lot of redemption on our minds to prove Ottawa isn’t 20 points better than us.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL