Bluejay women knock off Ottawa, close in on title

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Girls just wanna have fun and Saturday night at Ottawa, the fifth-ranked Tabor College women really seemed to enjoy themselves.

Maybe because the Bluejays dominated 22nd-ranked Ottawa on the way to 18 straight wins, 60-48.

“Mathematically, all we have to do is win one more game and we’ve clinched the conference title, but in all honesty, we’re playing for a lot more,” coach Rusty Allen said, referring to national tournament aspirations. “But I’m not going to take another conference title for granted. That’s going to be exciting.”

As is usually the case at Ottawa, nothing comes easily.

After Tabor built an early 9-5 lead, Ottawa responded with a 7-0 run to led 12-9 with 9:18 to play in the first half.

Tabor answered with a 15-3 run, including baskets by reserves Shannon Kroeker, Nicole Ellis and Katie Fast.

“Our bench really helped us out,” Allen said. “Katie has played well for about three games and Nicole has been very consistent, too.”

Allen said defense was key in gaining the upper hand in the waning moments of the half.

“We had Erica (Hemmert) on the top of our zone and Shannon and Jill (Hein) on the wings to contest their 3-point shooters,” he said. “We wanted to be long across the front of our zone and it worked-at least until the last couple of minutes.”

Tabor led 24-15 at the 2:23 mark, but Ottawa wasn’t going to concede a big lead. Back-to-back 3-point baskets from Brittany Broyles and Tina Wilson 20 seconds apart ignited the Braves-and the fans-as Ottawa whittled Tabor’s lead to 26-23 by halftime.

Contributing to Ottawa’s surge was the Bluejay’s inability to handle the Brave’s pressure defense. Tabor committed 15 turnovers during the first half.

Allen said he reassured his troops during halftime.

“We talked about how we really were dominating the game, but it wasn’t showing on the scoreboard,” he said. “I told them to go out and have fun and show what kind of team we really are.”

After the Braves cut Tabor’s lead to 26-25 in the early seconds of the second half, the Bluejays blitzed Ottawa with a 12-0 run capped by a 3-point bomb from Stacie Herman. Tabor led 38-25 with 13:26 to play.

The lead would swell to 16 points in the final minutes. The Braves never came closer than seven points as the Bluejays improved to 14-0 in the KCAC.

“The fact they couldn’t catch us comes down to what’s been happening ever since I’ve been here-our defense is really pretty good,” Allen said. “In order to beat us, you’re going to have to defend us because we are going to defend you. This is one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever coached.”

Herman led the Bluejays with 16 points but she had plenty of support. Hemmert added nine while Hein, Donya Anderson and Ellis all chipped in eight points.

Broyles led Ottawa with 10 points.

Anderson hauled in 15 rebounds despite spending time on the bench because of foul problems. As a team, Tabor out-rebounded Ottawa, 45-30.

Tabor hit 21 of 48 field goal attempts (44 percent) including six of 11 (46 percent) from behind the 3-point line.

Ottawa made only 18 of 61 field goal attempts (29 percent) including six of 19 (32 percent) from behind the arc.

Tabor committed 28 turnovers while Ottawa made 19.

The win improved Tabor’s record to 21-3 overall and 14-0 in KCAC. Ottawa fell to 16-8 and 10-4.

McPherson-McPherson entered Thursday’s game dead last in the KCAC at 1-11 and a 3-16 season record under first-year coach J.D. Gravina. But the Bulldogs nearly took a bite out of the Bluejays before fifth-ranked Tabor settled for a 70-56 win.

“Overall, I saw this as just a poor performance by our team,” coach Rusty Allen said. “There’s just a lot of areas we didn’t play well. We didn’t respect our opponent would be my guess.”

Even so, Tabor still bolted to an 18-1 lead in the first seven minutes of the game.

McPherson’s first field goal finally came when Christa Blose hit a 3-point basket with 12:19 to play in the half.

But that basket ignited a 9-0 Bulldog run, slicing Tabor’s lead to 18-10 at the 9:54 mark.

McPherson eventually whittled Tabor’s lead to six at 29-23 with 2:34 left in the half. The Bluejays led at halftime, 35-25.

Allen said his team lacked fire and intensity all evening.

“We didn’t play hard defensively, we didn’t sprint up and down the court and we didn’t box them off of the offensive boards,” he said. “You name it, everything happened.”

But Tabor’s depth made the difference again as nine Bluejays played at least 16 minutes-but not Erica Hemmert, who managed just over eight minutes while battling back spasms.

“Our starters did all right but our reserves have proven themselves to be solid and capable,” Allen said. “They’ve proven in practice and in games that they can get the job done.”

Although Tabor’s lead was never seriously threatened in the second half, it wasn’t a source for great comfort either.

The Bulldogs drew to within eight at one point, while the largest Bluejay lead was a deceptively solid 16 points before Tabor settled for the 14-point victory.

Stacie Herman, Donya Anderson and Emily Vogts all scored 10 points for Tabor while Erica Dechant, Kirsten Watson and Jill Hein each added nine.

Vogts completed the double-double with a game-high 12 rebounds.

Allen said Hein’s effort (four steals, four assists, seven rebounds) stood out.

“Of all the things about the game, the brightest thing to me was Jill’s play,” he said. “She demonstrated as much heart as you’re ever going to find in any player anywhere.”

Tabor hit 23 of 61 field goal attempts (38 percent), including eight of 18 (44 percent) from behind the 3-point line.

McPherson sank 23 of 68 shots (34 percent) but struggled from long range, making two of 14 from behind the bonus arc.

Tabor made 16 of 21 free throws (76 percent) while McPherson made eight of 15 (53 percent).

The Bluejays committed 20 turnovers compared to 18 for McPherson.

“We didn’t take care of the basketball, especially in the second half,” Allen said.

“But we won the game and I’m not one to take winning for granted.”

Coming-Tabor returns home Thursday to host Friends, then travels to Salina to battle Kansas Wesleyan on Saturday.

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