Bluejay women roll into Christmas tied for first

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Tabor women’s coach Rusty Allen thought he was receiving his Christmas present two weeks early Saturday night at McPherson as he watched his Bluejays totally overwhelm the Bulldogs-at least for the first 15 minutes.

Tabor built a 32-16 lead, then hung on for a 72-63 win that boosted them into a four-way tie for first place in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference at the holiday break. The Bluejays are 9-4 overall and 3-1 in the KCAC.

“Our defense completely snuffed them out in the first 15 minutes,” Allen said. “(Assistant) Coach (Blake) Burhman told the girls afterward if we put a 40-minute game together like we played the first 15 minutes, we’re going to be a scary team to play.

“We’ve had some spurts like that, but this was the longest stretch we’ve put together where we completely dominated the game in every respect.”

Tabor’s barrage included a three 3-point baskets each by Stacie Herman, Erica Hemmert and Kelly Pavlik.

Early on, it was “crystal” clear that the Bulldog offense would have difficulty scoring. Crystal Richardson was their only offense, netting 14 of McPherson’s first 18 points.

Keying the Tabor surge was the ball handling skills of Herman, the freshman point guard who shredded the vaunted Bulldog pressure.

“You can’t be tentative against a press,” Allen said. “You have to make good decisions, but you can’t just sit there and try to protect because if you do that, you’re going to end up turning the ball over anyway and you never get any layups.”

But things started to sour for the Bluejays in the final two minutes of the half as McPherson strung together nine straight points to cut the lead to 32-25 at halftime.

“McPherson hit two really long shots and we threw the ball away against that press,” Allen said of the McPherson run. “You can have one turnover, but if you bounce back with three more solid possessions, that turnover goes away in your memory.

“But you can’t have back to back-to-back turnovers,” he added. “We also took a couple of quick shots, so I think we just set ourselves up by not taking it seriously enough.”

Trailing by seven, McPherson began the second half like it finished the first, outscoring Tabor 20-13 to tie the game at 45 with 12:22 to play.

McPherson looked every bit like a team that had yet to lose a conference game.

But Tabor responded with a 10-0 run, sparked by the rebounding of Donya Anderson, who hauled in a season-high 15 boards.

Anderson hit two shots during the stretch that staked the Bluejays to a 55-45 lead with 10:10 to play.

“For a while, Donya grabbed every rebound,” Allen said. “I think in one stretch, she had seven straight boards.”

Herman played a key role in the run, as she once again shredded the McPherson full-court pressure.

“I thought Stacie played a terrific game,” Allen said. “She took on the pressure and blew it away.”

Although Tabor turned the ball over 21 times, Allen said he was pleased with the effort.

“I knew coming in that their pressure could give us some trouble,” he said. “I knew how quick they were and the problem was we only had one day to practice.

“The next time we face them we’ll have prepared our press offense much better.”

Two long-range bombs by McPherson in the final three minutes brought the Bulldogs back to within four at 66-62 with 2:32 to play, but accurate free throw shooting and good ball handling down the stretch preserved Tabor’s 72-63 victory.

The Bluejays connected on 54 percent of their shots in the second half and finished at 47 percent overall. McPherson connected on 32 percent.

Hemmert scored 19 points to lead Tabor; Herman added 15 and Pavlik 11.

Tabor won the rebounding battle 49-36, led by Anderson’s 15.

With the win, Tabor improves to 9-4 overall and 3-1 in conference play, good for a tie for first place.

“I think this is the first time since 1991 that Tabor has gone into the Christmas break in first place,” Allen said.

“I’m just thankful for my team and for my assistant coaches because they all work so hard,” he added. “It’s just a great way to end the first part of the season.”

Saint Mary-University of Saint Mary’s first-year coach Michael Basler must have felt like he was riding a Clydesdale in the Kentucky Derby at the start of Thursday’s game against Tabor.

The Bluejays came out of the chute and hit the Spires with a 16-0 run, not allowing a basket until the 16:13 mark.

Keying the surge was Erica Hemmert, who poured in 12 points, including two 3-pointers.

Coach Rusty Allen said he wasn’t surprised his junior guard finally broke loose.

“It was just a matter of time before Erica started shooting the ball well and getting into the flow of things,” Allen said. “Obviously, she got off to a great start.”

Allen said before the game that he knew the Spires would have trouble handling his all-KCAC standout.

“It was a matchup problem, so we ran the first play of the game to Erica,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s what got her going or not, but she could have scored about 40 because she was getting the shots she wanted.”

After Tabor’s thoroughbred start, the Spires actually played a decent game, cutting the lead to 20-8 at one point.

“I thought Saint Mary played pretty well after that early run when they looked intimidated,” Allen said. “I tip my hat to them-they have a really nice attitude on that club.”

After the initial surge, the Spires never got within single digits and trailed 41-23 at halftime.

But Saint Mary did convert 15 of 16 (94 percent) free throws, prompting Allen to implore his team at halftime to play more-inspired defense.

“When they shoot that many free throws, two things are happening,” he said. “One, they dive in and you feel threatened and you basically bail them out; two, we started letting up so our feet weren’t in good position.”

The second half was more of the same as the Spires never got closer than 14 points.

Allen said the Bluejays’ fast start nearly proved to be their own worst enemy.

“Hopefully, we learned a lesson from this and that is, when you jump out on a team, if you let up there’s a real good chance you can never get that edge back the rest of the game,” he said. “I never felt like we got our edge back.

Hemmert finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-19 shooting. Donya Anderson added 15 points and eight rebounds and Stacie Herman added 12 points and five assists.

Amber Seevers led Saint Mary with nine points.

Tabor connected on 30 of 68 field-goal attempts (44 percent) while holding the Spires to 17 of 58 (29 percent).

Allen said it was nice to get a win without having white knuckles at the end.

“We had a great start and we were really ready to play on both ends of the court, but we let up because of our big lead and basically took a step backward for about 10 of 15 minutes,” he said. “But it’s nice to get our second conference win.”

Manhattan Christian College-Tabor defeated the Crusaders of Manhattan Christian College, 79-43, on Monday, Dec. 6.

MCC, who finished at 25-6 last year and second in the nation in the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament, didn’t prove to be the challenge coach Rusty Allen anticipated.

“I wasn’t sure how good they’d be,” he said. “Apparently that level of play isn’t as tough as we thought.”

Allen said the victory was good in a difficult situation.

“It was a really odd gymnasium for us to play in and it was following a big conference win without any practice,” he said

Tabor jumped on top early and never gave its host a chance to get back into the contest, building a 40-24 lead at halftime on the strength of 53 percent shooting.

Tabor continued its torrid pace in the second half, hitting 15 of 29 for 52 percent while the defense held the Crusaders to 29 percent for the game.

Kelly Pavlik led Tabor with 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

“Kelly was especially good on the break,” Allen said. “From my perspective, Kelly has been the player I thought she would be all year, and that’s someone who’s consistent, who can step up and do a variety of things when you need her to and she’s shown she can shoot the ball pretty well.”

Shannon Kroeker broke out of her shooting doldrums, connecting on four of six 3-point attempts for 14 points. Erica Hemmert added 10 points and five assists.

Tabor hit 10 of 22 shots from behind the 3-point line while MCC hit just one of nine.

“We had a lot of people contribute, but overall I thought we played pretty well,” Allen said.

Coming-Following the semester break, Tabor will play its next game Jan. 6 when the Bluejays travel to North Newton to tangle with Bethel College.

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