Bluejays edge Southwestern, get bounced in semifinal

Kansas Wesleyan ended the Tabor College women’s basketball season Saturday night, with a 16 points, 10 rebounds double-double by Kaylaen Dittmer powering the Coyotes to a 74-54 victory.

To reach the semifinal round, the Bluejays overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to win 43-42 on Jordan Crosson’s layup with three seconds left Thursday night at Southwestern.

?It was a great win for our program on the road in the conference tournament,? coach Shawn Winter said. ?We had played Southwestern close the first two games and felt that we had let both games slip away. It was nice to come out on the winning end this time.?

Southwestern?The Bluejays and Moundbuilders combined for 85 points on 27 percent shooting, but produced a remarkably entertaining 43-42 final score in spite of their offensive struggles.

The way Southwestern shot, a post-game party thrown by the Moundbuilders would probably have been no good, had they won. Despite putting together a 6-for-32 brick-fest from 3-point range as part of an 11-for-49 shooting night, Southwestern led by as much as 20-10.

Early on, Tabor struggled with a case of happy feet, committing at least five traveling violations. But after Southwestern?s lead hit 10 points, the Bluejays scored six straight entering halftime: a Chelsea Malone 2-pointer, a Kirsten Watson 3-pointer, and a bonus free throw by Brittany Roth with 26 seconds remaining. The made free throw and the miss that followed were Tabor’s only first-half foul shots.

Southwestern had carried a 5-1 free throw edge into the break, but as the count evened out over the course of the second half, Tabor closed the gap. The Bluejays pulled within 22-21 on Sarah Wyckoff’s foul shots at 14:48, then tied it at 24-all on Watson’s 3-pointer.

The Moundbuilders finally found their range and widened the gap to 32-26 with a 3-for-5 stretch that included 3-pointers by Brooke Fairbank and Jordan Jarnagin.

The run might have been enough to leave the Bluejays eating dust if not for two Kara Beal turnovers and one of Tabor?s most skillful defensive stands of the season.

After Jarnagin made her triple, she forced Brittany Roth into a turnover. But when Southwestern?s offense opted to run a pick and roll on the right wing side, Watson and Wyckoff stepped out to force the Moundbuilder guard to pass. As the guard threaded a pass to the “rolling” forward, Roth came from the weak side to deny a close-range shot opportunity. When Roth’s mark stepped out to the top of the key to receive a kick-out pass, Wyckoff prevented her from handling it cleanly?and Watson stepped in to collect the loose ball.

While the sequence did not lead to an immediate Bluejays score at the other end, it sparked a series of stops that allowed the Bluejays to halve the lead on Andrea Robinson’s 3-pointer.

After Robinson’s triple, the Bluejays forced Jasmine Jackson into a turnover, then knotted the game, 32-all, on Wyckoff’s left wing trey off Malone’s assist. Malone forced Jarnagin into a jump ball on Southwestern’s next trip, but possession stayed with the Moundbuilders?until Sara Maxwell’s offensive foul handed the ball to the Bluejays.

The Bluejays offense misfired, but their defensive romp continued, forcing a shot clock violation with 5:16 to go. Crosson then gave Tabor its first lead since 2-0 with a layup.

Southwestern got a point back with a double-bonus free throw, but Tabor widened the lead to 38-33 on Watson’s bonus free throws following a controversial blocking foul called against Beal with 3:12 left.

On Southwestern’s ensuing possession, Watson picked Cossman’s pocket but missed the breakway layup, then fouled Beal at the other end. Between Beal’s free throws and two by Jackson?who fouled out Gina Hullet with 1:51 to go?the Builders cut it back to one.

Crosson doubled Tabor’s lead to two with a free throw, but Southwestern took a 40-39 lead on what looked to be the shot of the night?a left wing trey by Smith with 43 seconds left.

Then came an offensive flurry: a trade of dribble-drive layups by Watson and Beal made it a 42-41 Southwestern lead with 17 seconds to go, with the ball in Tabor’s hands.

After one of seven timeouts in the final minute of the game, the Bluejays inbounded to Watson, who dribbled across the timeline, but was walled off along the sideline by a Southwestern guard. She forced a pass through to Robinson on right wing. Robinson dribbled around the perimeter, cutting off of Crosson?s screen to get to the left baseline with time running out. Sensing an over-rotation by the Moundbuilders defense and declining to put up a wild shot, Robinson sent a pass through traffic to Crosson, wide open under the basket for the winner.

?We had drawn up a high pick and roll and both Andrea and Jordan stayed with the play with Andrea doing a great job of penetrating and drawing two defenders before finding Crosson under the basket,? Winter said.

Three timeouts set up the final play of the Moundbuilders’ season?a last-ditch inbounds pass that Crosson intercepted near mid-court.

Kansas Wesleyan?Despite the lopsidedness of the final score, the Bluejays forced K-W to ride its starters more heavily than a team preparing to face tournament top-seed Sterling would prefer. And while Wesleyan dominated the scoreboard from the outset, Tabor put together several stretches of highly effective play?especially in conjuction with a press defense Tabor employed during the second half.

Having fallen behind by 12 points in the first five minutes of action, the Bluejays regained a little ground on a 3-pointer by Andrea Robinson and a long 2-pointer by Gina Hullet. The Coyotes then used a 13-2 run to raise their lead to 21, forcing a Tabor timeout 8:30 before the break. K-W led by as much as 27 on their way to a 46-21 first halftime score.

The Bluejays allowed Wesleyan to lead by 30 points for all of 22 seconds between a 3-pointer by Coyotes forward Jenni Vopat and a 3-point reply by Kirsten Watson. Watson’s triple started a stretch during which the Bluejays played the opposing starters evenly for 10 minutes, after which the Bluejays put together a 13-2 run that chopped the Coyote lead to 65-50 with 5:05 remaining.

?We were pleased down the stretch the way our team fought their way back into the game,? Winter said. ?We hope to build on this game as motivation for working hard in the off-season to prepare for next year.?

K-W went back to its starting lineup to close out the game, and was immediately awarded three free throws when MacKenzie Dick was called for fouling Emily Luckeroth. Luckeroth buried all three, then converted Dittmer’s steal into an “and-1” layup with 3:56 to go.

?We were a couple of breaks away from closing the gap to single digits and making things really interesting,? Winter said. ?Our pressure definitely gave them some problems in the second half but we ran out of steam.?

Luckeroth finished with 17 points. Jennie Vopat’s layup restored the K-W lead to 20, and Coyote subs closed out the contest. Vopat finished with 12. Wesleyan, undefeated on its home floor this season, outscored Tabor 21-6 at the foul line, 27-18 from the 3-point arc, and 22-13 off turnovers.

Leading Tabor, Hullet, a KCAC all-freshman team honoree, put together a 17-10 double-double. Watson scored 12 points?all on 3-point shots?and Andrea Robinson added 14.

Watson was named to the all-KCAC defensive team and all-conference honorable mention.

?Kirsten Watson is very deserving of both honors,? Winter said. ?Her defensive effort all season was very impressive as she played with as much desire and intensity as anyone I have ever coached!?

?Our team will certainly miss her next season but she has left behind a great example of leadership and work ethic for you younger players to follow,? he added.

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