The Tabor College women started the second half of the KCAC schedule with the tough assignment of winning in the unfriendly confines of the Gleason Center on the campus of Sterling College Saturday night.
But when the smoke cleared and the Bluejays rain of three-point baskets ended, Tabor came away with an easier than expected 84-56 win over the Warriors.
In the process, by virtue of Friends’ 61-52 win over previous co-leader Southwestern, Tabor grabbed sole possession of the top spot in the KCAC with a 9-1 conference record (13-7 overall).
Returning to Sterling, where Bluejay coach Shawn Reed was part of 230 Sterling wins in his tenure as Lonnie Kruse’s assistant, Tabor hoped its 67-52 win over Sterling in late November would provide a blueprint for another win.
While the script didn’t exactly follow expectations, the results were more than satisfactory. Tabor jumped to a quick 8-2 lead, thanks in part to a three-point rainbow from Katlyn Mary, one of four she would drain in the first half.
Reed said his team isn’t the same team Sterling faced earlier this season.
“The first time we played them it was early and we still weren’t quite sure about everything and everyone’s role,” Reed said. “We played a lot better tonight than when we played them the first time. We just shot the ball a lot better tonight.”
When Molly Moran drilled a three-point basket at the 10:47 mark, Tabor enjoyed a 23-10 lead over the stunned Warriors. But Sterling fought back to cut the Tabor lead to 29-27 with 4:38 left in the half.
Reed said his team was slow to react to the Warrior barrage.
“They scored a lot in transition (when they closed the gap) and we weren’t picking up very well,” Reed said. “I thought Sterling did a good job and we just didn’t adjust right away.”
But Tabor righted the ship over the final minutes of the half, and rebuilt the lead to 41-32 by intermission, helped by two more Mary three-pointers.
The second half only got better for Bluejays, who started with a 16-2 spurt that inflated the lead to 57-32 at the 16:12 mark.
“We did some things we talked about at halftime and executed and got the ball to the people we wanted,” Reed said. “And when shots go in, the game is a lot easier.”
When Jazmyne Smith hit a short jumper at the 6:38 mark, Tabor’s lead peaked at 33 points and the Bluejays were able to enjoy a rare easy win on Sterling’s home court.
Nikki Lewis led Tabor’s balanced scoring with 17 points in addition to 10 assists. Lewis leads the KCAC in assists (5.8 per game) and is ranked third in NAIA Division II.
Joining Lewis in double figures was Mary with 16, Janelle Rust 14 and Moran 13. Rust also contributed a team-high 10 rebounds and, for the second time this season, was named KCAC Player of the Week.
Tabor connected on 31 of 64 field goal attempts (48 percent), including a sizzling 11 of 22 from behind the three-point arc.
Sterling was led by Cassi Spleiss with 17 points. With the loss, Sterling fell to 5-5 in the KCAC and 9-11 overall.
“Tonight I’d have to say was probably our best all-around game of the season,” Reed said. “Offensively, we had a good game against Southwestern but we struggled defensively. This was a really nice win for our team.”
Coming—Tabor will defend its lead in the KCAC with a game at home against McPherson (6-4, 12-8) Wednesday with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m, then will travel to Lindsborg Saturday to take on the Bethany Swedes (1-9, 2-18) with a 5 p.m. start