ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
There were no party hats or confetti Friday night to ring in the new year (a day early) at Chickasha, Okla., but Tabor’s ninth-ranked women’s basketball team was in a celebratory mood after a hard-fought 74-68 win over a talented University of Science and Arts team.
“I’m pleased to get a win on the road, especially against a quality opponent,” coach Rusty Allen said. “They’re an (NAIA) Division I team and we beat them at their place after driving four hours, so it was a pretty big win for our team.”
In fact, USAO received enough votes in the final 2005 NAIA Division I poll to be ranked 29th in the nation. It had amassed a 7-1 record this season before losing to the Bluejays.
It didn’t take long for Tabor to assert itself. Stacie Herman scored twice, Erica Hemmert added a bucket and Jill Hein converted a steal by Emily Vogts into two points as Tabor opened with an 8-0 run.
But after calling a timeout, USAO regrouped and eventually took its first lead of the night when Desiree Jones drained 3-point shot with 12:15 left in the first half clock to go up 12-10.
USAO extended its lead to as many as seven points, 23-16, with 7:53 left in the half thanks in part to Tabor’s less than stellar ball handling-13 first-half turnovers-and soft post defense.
“Defensively, I didn’t feel like we stopped them the way we should have, particularly their post players,” Allen said. “We didn’t play like I think we can and we just didn’t adjust to what they were doing.
“That’s disappointing because it comes down to fundamentals,” he added. “But the good news is that’s something that’s correctable.”
Trailing by seven, Tabor got a hoop by Hein followed by a 3-pointer by Sarah Lyons to whittle the lead to 23-21.
A steal by Hemmert on USAO’s next possession set the stage for a basket by Donya Anderson with an assist by Hein to tie the game at 23 with 5:57 left in the half.
The game would be tied three more times before USAO took a 35-33 lead at halftime.
With the score remaining close, the second half looked like a battle of nationally ranked teams.
Trailing 45-41, Tabor got what may have seemed to be an insignificant basket by those on hand at the USAO Fieldhouse, but it spoke volumes about the courage of one of the Bluejays.
With 15:54 to play in the game, Katie Tedder, torn ACL and all, scored the first basket of her Tabor career to cut the lead to two points.
Allen called Tedder’s contribution nothing short of amazing.
“For someone playing on a torn ACL, she looked pretty dang good,” he said. “There’s no way Katie is 100 percent, but even at 70 percent, because of how athletic she is, she’s better than a lot of players.”
With the game tied for the fifth time in the second half at 52 with 10:42 to play, USAO’s Christina Brown missed a shot but protested that she was fouled, earning a technical foul.
The play proved to be a turning point when Herman calmly sank both free throws to give the Bluejays a 54-52 advantage.
An assist by Kirsten Watson set up Tedder for another field goal, which was followed by a pair of baskets by Hemmert to give Tabor a sudden eight-point lead at 60-52 with 8:11 to play.
But the Drovers fought back to tie the game at 62 at the 5:02 mark.
After a basket by Vogts gave Tabor the lead once again, Watson drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Tabor some breathing room with 3:34 to go.
“That was a really big shot,” Allen said. “Kirsten is a pretty confident player and I’ve never seen her play scared. If she feels she has a play she’s capable of making, she goes for it.”
Tabor’s lead would swell to as many as eight points, 71-63, before the final horn sounded with the six-point victory.
Vogts led Tabor with 17 points while Herman added 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Anderson contributed 12 points.
Lindsey Monroe scored 16 points to lead three Drovers in double figures.
Tabor connected on 29 of 65 (44.6 percent) field goal attempts, including three of nine 3-pointers, while USAO made 23 of 58 (39.7 percent), including eight of 21 from behind the arc.
After committing 13 turnovers in the first half, Tabor ended the game with a total of only 18. USAO turned the ball over 23 times.
Tabor made 13 of 18 (72.2 percent) free throws while USAO made 14 of 20.
With the victory, Tabor improved to 10-3 for the season while USAO fell to 7-2.
“This was a great way for us to start the second half of our season,” Allen said, referring to the USAO victory. “I’m hoping this win will be a big confidence booster for what’s an even bigger game on Thursday against Ottawa.”
Tabor and Ottawa will each take a 4-0 conference record into that showdown in Hillsboro for the KCAC lead. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.