As the KCAC season reaches its climax, expectations for the Tabor College women seem to be at a critical stage.
The Bluejays, picked as the pre-season favorite to win the KCAC title, absorbed two more losses last week for three in a row.
Still ranked at No. 23 nationally, Tabor has slipped to 10-6 in the conference and 13-9 overall and are in a three-way tie for third place.
Saturday’s game against KCAC-leading Friends University could have been an opportunity to change their fortunes. Instead, the Bluejays faded in the second half in an 83-58 outcome.
Coach Shawn Reed said his team has faced a lot of adversity this season, not the least of which was the loss of leading scorer, Morgan Ediger, early in the season.
“We don’t have enough depth, and that’s really showing,” he said. “You can’t play as many young kids as we’re playing and have success. I wish it wasn’t that way, but that’s where were at with that.”
For most of Saturday’s game, Tabor remained in range of the high-flying Falcons, who are 14-2 in KCAC play and four games ahead of Tabor in the standings.
Friends managed a 17-14 lead after one quarter and a 31-26 margin by halftime.
The Bluejays started the third quarter with a 6-2 surge to pull within one point of Friends, 33-32, with 7:27 left in the quarter.
Five turnovers and four missed shots later, the Bluejays were drifting away at 41-32. But, one more Bluejay surge—two baskets by Tristen Leiszler and a traditional 3-point play by Taylor Deniston—pulled Tabor to within 43-39 with 2:30 left in the quarter.
Friends turned up the heat down with a 9-2 run that gave the visitors their first double-digit lead of the game at 52-41 as the third quarter ended.
Kelsey Unruh and Megan Voth hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull Tabor within 54-47 at the 8:35 mark. But over the next four minutes, the Falcons took control with an 18-4 run for a 72-51 lead midway through the quarter.
Friends slowly inflated the lead through the very end of the game, finishing with a 25-point victory.
Leiszler was the only Bluejay to reach double-digit points, finishing with 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the floor.
Friends, meanwhile, had five players scoring in double figures, led by Makenzie Vining with 17. Beyond the final score, the most significant stat was turnovers. The Bluejays committed 29 to only 12 for the Falcons.
“Their confidence is really low right now,” Reed said. “The only way to get confidence is to do things right and get a win. Until we do that, we’ll probably struggle.”
BETHEL—Facing the 11th-place team in the KCAC, the Bluejays were upended by their traditional rivals, 66-65 in overtime.
Both teams got off to a slow start. Tabor opened the scoring with a 3-point basket by Taylor Deniston on the Bluejays’ first possession. But, Tabor didn’t score again until Deniston scored a 2-point basket midway through the first quarter.
Bethel was leading at the time, 7-3. The scoring pace picked up a bit for both teams in the last half of the period with the host team leading, 18-15.
The Bluejays tied the game at 20 when Kristyn Wedel hit one of two free throws with 6:26 left in the first half. Bethel didn’t buckle; instead, the Threshers finished the with a 10-5 surge for a 30-25 lead by halftime.
Bethel used its quickness to penetrate the lane time and time again, but, fortunately for Tabor, the Threshers weren’t particularly proficient converting points in the lane.
The pace of the game was uneven in the third quarter. When a Kelsey Unruh free throw tied the game at 30 with 4:45 left in the period, Bethel took charge with a 13-7 surge to lead the Bluejays 43-37 heading into the fourth quarter.
Bethel defended its lead until Amber Bonham tied the game at 55 with a basket in the lane at the 3:12 mark.
Tabor had opportunities to win the game in regulation, but made only two of four free-throws and missed all four of its field-goal attempts in the final 2:19.
Tied at 57 at the end of regulation, the two teams kept on battling. A pair of 3-point baskets by Bonham over a 50-second span gave Tabor a 63-58 lead with 2:05 left in the extra period.
But Bethel regrouped to tie the game at 63 with 32 seconds remaining. When Wedel scored on an inbounds play with 2.5 second remaining, it appeared the Bluejays would escape the upset after all.
Not so. Bethel post player Abby Schmidt took the inbounds pass and not only scored in the lane, but was fouled in the act by Wedel with a half-second left on the clock. Schmidt cooly sank the bonus free throw to end the game.
Schmidt finished with 15 points, exceeded only by Bethel’s Ciara McKinney with 18. Fantasia Johnson added 14 points.
COMING—Tabor will travel to Leavenworth Wednesday to play the University of Saint Mary. On Saturday, Tabor will play Bethany College at Lindsborg.
For both road trips, the women will begin play at 5 p.m. and the men at 7 p.m.