With a three-point victory over Ottawa, the Tabor College women won the KCAC regular season title with a 15-3 record. It is the Bluejays? first regular season championship since the 2005-06 season.
?For us to, in year four, win the regular season outright, after graduating the last two players of the year in our league, says something about where we?re going and who we have in the program,? coach Shawn Reed said. ?No one gave us a chance to do this with (Janelle Rust and Nikki Lewis) graduating. No one. Not a person. That?s a testimony to the girls on the team and how hard they?ve worked.?
The Bluejays, who are receiving votes in the latest NAIA Coaches? Top 25 poll, have also earned an automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament for the second consecutive year.
Ottawa?In a close battle from start to finish, Tabor ended the regular season with a 60-57 win Saturday.
?I knew that this game was going to be a possession-by-possession game because we match up with each other pretty well, except I don?t think we have an answer for their point guard, and I don?t think they have an answer for Tonisha (Dean),? coach Shawn Reed said. ?Athletically, those matchups are both tough for us, but the other matchups are really, very competitive.
?Every little advantage in that game, you had to try and take something from or you weren?t going to win. It was like a chess match.?
Dean, the Bluejays? leading scorer, scored Tabor?s first four points for an early 4-2 lead, but from there, Ottawa used an 8-0 run to take its largest margin, 10-4. Tabor?s scoring drought lasted more than six and a half minutes.
?We had tons of good looks, and we couldn?t throw it in the ocean for nothing,? Reed said. ?If we were standing on the beach, we couldn?t drop the ball in the water, we?d throw it up the mountain. We were probably a little tight, although we try to keep things loose. It?s a big game and everybody knows.?
Tena Loewen broke the ice with a three-point play with 9:38 left in the half, and as Tabor settled in, the teams traded scores.
With Tabor trailing, 17-13, Dean scored Tabor?s next eight points, including a basket off her steal that tied the game at 21. Mallory Zuercher made a three to give Tabor a 24-21 lead, and the first half ended with Tabor in front, 26-24.
The game was tied four times in the first five minutes of the second half. Erin Maxwell scored twice to put Tabor in front by four, but Ottawa tied it at 37. Again, the Bluejays built a four-point lead, but Ottawa used a 6-1 run to reclaim the advantage, 44-43.
The teams traded scores until Taylor Hurd followed two Dean free throws with a three, giving Tabor a 51-49 lead with 3:13 to play.
The teams locked heads at 51, and with the game tied at 54, Troxell sank a crucial three to put Tabor in front with 48 seconds left. Loewen and Hurd each made one of two free throws for a 59-56 score with 11 seconds left. The Bluejays sent Ottawa to the charity stripe, where the Braves scored their final point, and Loewen polished the win with a free throw.
Although Ottawa shot 52.4 percent from the field in the second half (11-21) and Tabor shot just 39.1 percent (9-23), Reed said the difference was Tabor?s four second-half threes.
Dean led Tabor with 22 points. Loewen added 11.
Sterling?A strong defensive effort helped Tabor cruise to a 65-45 victory Thursday.
The Bluejays limited Sterling to 35.6 percent shooting from the field (16-45), including 28.6 percent from three (4-14).
Despite Tabor?s scoring drought in the latter part of the first half, coach Shawn Reed credited the defense for seeing the team through.
?To hold them to 45 points is really good for us,? Reed said. ?We feel good about it, defensively. I thought our defensive effort was pretty consistent throughout the game, so it?s good to continue that. When we struggled there in the first half when we went through that long stretch where we were stuck on 23 for forever, our defense allowed us to stay in the game.?
Tabor came out firing on all cylinders, making five of its first six field goal attempts in the first four minutes for a 12-3 lead after Mallory Zuercher and Taylor Hurd drained back-to-back threes. By the time Kayla Wilgers scored twice, Tabor?s lead was 17-5.
Tabor led, 21-10, at 8:48 after Kaleigh Troxell scored, but then Tabor did not score another field goal the next 7:30, managing only two free throws during that stretch. Sterling, meanwhile, tied the game at 23 with 1:40 left in the half. Zuercher broke the drought with a three with 1:18 to play, giving Tabor a 26-23 halftime lead.
?In the first half, they were trapping us and doing some things and we just didn?t make very good adjustments to it,? Reed said. ?At halftime, we talked about multiple things that we could do in that situation, and we did those things in the second half and shot 58 percent. That was the difference in the game.?
The Bluejays increased their lead to 37-29 after a Wilgers three, but a string of four brought Sterling within 37-33. From there, Tonisha Dean scored to ignite a 13-4 run and capped it with a basket to put Tabor in front, 50-37, with 8:14 to play.
With Tabor leading, 52-41, Taylor Janzen made consecutive baskets, which was the start of a 9-0 run that put Tabor up, 61-41, when Dean scored with 3:17 to go. The teams traded scores, with Dean adding two more baskets to give Tabor the 20-point victory.
Tabor shot 49.1 percent from the field in the game (28-57), including 58.1 percent in the second half (18-31). Dean and Wilgers shared top scoring honors with 13 points each. Troxell added 11.
The win improved Tabor to 14-3 in the KCAC, one game ahead of Southwestern at 13-4.
Coming?Tabor (15-3, 19-11) will now turn its attention to the KCAC tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the Bluejays will host No. 8 Saint Mary (7-11, 11-17) Thursday at 7 p.m.
With a win, Tabor will host either No. 4 Friends (11-7, 19-11) or No. 5 Ottawa (11-7, 15-13) Saturday at 7 p.m.
The other half of the bracket features No. 3 Kansas Wesleyan (12-6, 20-9) hosting No. 6 Sterling (9-9, 12-17) and No. 2 Southwestern (13-5, 19-9) hosting No. 7 Bethel (7-11, 10-17). The championship will be played March 2 at Hartman Arena. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.
For same night reporting, visit hillsborofreepress.com.