?We just ran into a very good, well disciplined, well coached, and confident basketball team,? Tabor coach Shawn Winter said.
Holding onto its rank for a third consecutive week, No. 7 Sterling has abided in the top ten of the NAIA Division II rankings for eight straight polls. Saturday?s win kept the Warriors alongside Kansas Wesleyan (14-2) atop the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Standings. With nine wins in a row, the No. 14 Coyotes have been nipping at Sterling?s heels for two solid months.
Tabor (6-10) is caught in a 3-way tie for sixth in the KCAC?but is also just one win ahead of ninth-place Saint Mary.
Sterling?The Warriors led 8-0 before Gina Hullet bagged back-to-back baskets for Tabor, then ramped its lead to 10 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Jannica Schultze and Megan Patrick.
Bluejays forward Sarah Wyckoff twice cut the Warriors lead to eight: once with foul shots at 12:11, and again with a short jumper at 11:29.
Kirsten Watson got involved in the scoring with a layup and a free throw that pulled Tabor within seven.
Patrick answered for Sterling, and Hullet countered Patrick’s response with a layup that made it 20-13, Sterling, with 10:25 left.
The Warriors outscored Tabor 19-8 heading to lead 39-21 at the break, then upped their lead to 22 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Hillary Stuckey and Cathryn Wiebe.
It eventually reached 28 on a point-blank basket by Ashley Gasper, and the Warriors called off the dogs with two minutes left in the game. The Warriors shot 56 percent from the field (59 percent from 3-point range) and tacked on eight of 15 foul shots.
?They are athletic, strong, deep, well-balanced inside and out, and when they shoot the ball well it is almost impossible to beat them,? Winter said. ?We were pleased with the effort that our players gave.?
Tabor out-rebounded the Warriors 39-26 and committed just 13 turnovers?but made just 18 of 57 field goal attempts.
The Bluejays were led statistically by Wyckoff with 12 points, Watson with 11 points and Hullet with 11 rebounds.
Bethel?Despite achieving a wide margin of victory, the Bluejays needed every last one of Kirsten Watson’s 30 points to count, and no basket proved more important than the 3-pointer Watson drained to quash Bethel’s first and only lead of the second half.
?It was just a case of a senior making a statement about not allowing losing to be an option,? Winter said. ?She not only scored 30 points but played a tremendous floor game as she ran the point almost the entire game and made a lot of good things happen on the defensive end as well.?
The Threshers had rallied from a 32-20 halftime deficit with stronger defense, limiting Tabor to 9-for-25 shooting after the break.
Bethel?s defensive intensity keyed its offense, which more than doubled its efficiency while slashing the Bluejays lead from 19 points to five during a 3:45 stretch early in the second half.
Gina Hullet and Chelsea Malone lifted Tabor to a 6-1 scoring run, and Sarah Wyckoff boosted the Bluejays lead back to 11 with a free throw with 9:11 to go.
The Threshers threw everything short of a kitchen sink at Tabor over the final nine minutes, playing their press tightly and to near perfection to keep the Bluejays without a field goal for five straight minutes.
?Bethel tried to press us the entire game and it caused a few turnovers but we were also able to capitalize when they over played the passing lanes at times,? Winter said. ?We struggled to make shots down the stretch but some of that had to do with Bethel’s physical play on defense.?
Hullet and Bethel forward Kelsie Wilson fouled out 22 seconds apart, and the exchange of free throws allowed Watson to give the Bluejays a 53-50 lead with 4:38 remaining.
But Bethel immediately tied the game at 53-all on a right wing 3-pointer by Angela Wood and, after a pair of bonus free throws by Malone, knotted it again on a coast-to-coast layup by Jessica Muckenthaler. The Threshers broke through to take the lead on the next possession, which ended with a Muckenthaler free throw with 3:50 to go.
Then Watson stepped up, burying a top-of-the-arc triple off a pass from Wyckoff, reestablishing Tabor?s lead and setting up a timeout that marked the beginning of the endgame.
Bethel maintained its aggressive defense but earned diminishing returns after the Bluejays broke into the double bonus, while Tabor?s increasingly stern defense paid generous dividends.
The Threshers committed two critical shot clock violations and managed to score only a single free throw in response to Watson?s pivotal 3-point shot.
And although Bethel held the Bluejays without a field goal in the final three minutes, Tabor scored 12 points on perfect free throw shooting to push its lead to 14.
By knocking down a pair of technical foul shots with 43 seconds left, Watson reached the 30-point plateau for the first time in a Bluejays uniform.
Tabor mustered 13 points from Malone and 10 from Stephanie Silvas in support of Watson’s career night.
Coming?Tabor can keep its hopes of finishing in the top half of the conference alive by winning at Ottawa (8-8) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Bluejays regular season schedule concludes at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bethany.
When announced, finalized seedings and schedule information for the KCAC post-season tournament will be posted to the Free Press Web site.