by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
As Julius Caesar once famously said and musicians later immortalized, “They came…they saw…they conquered.”
And boy did they conquer. With a national tournament berth on the line, Kansas City Kansas Community College’s No. 7 ranked Lady Blue Devils took control early and never looked back in an 84-71 thrashing of No. 6 Highland to win the NJCAA DII Region VI championship at Hartman Arena in Park City, Kansas, Tuesday.
With their first Jayhawk Conference title safely tucked away, the sweep of the region championship is the first ever and sends the Blue Devils (29-4) to the NJCAA national tourney in Harrison, Arkansas, March 19-23. Sixteen teams will qualify for the double elimination tourney with pairings to be announced next Tuesday.
Tuesday’s game was never in doubt after the Blue Devils bolted to a 35-26 lead in the waning minutes of the first half and then built leads of 19 and 20 points in the final half. It was 79-61 when KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry emptied his bench with 2:11 remaining.
So dominant were the Blue Devils that they won convincingly despite giving up a whopping 25 turnovers. Of Highland’s 71 points, 33 came off turnovers, mostly the result of 13 Scottie steals. Another 24 Highland points came off eight 3-pointers (six in the final quarters).
“Our girls did a fantastic job of making things difficult for Highland all night long,” McKinstry said. “I can’t remember very many times in the half court where Highland got an easy opportunity at the basket. We put in some new things Monday and tried hard to identify the strengths of each of their players and to do our best at making those things challenging for them.”
Sophomore Lillie Moore led the way offensively with one of her best performances of the season – 25 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Freshmen sharpshooters Brodi Byrd and Lenaejha Evans added 14 and 13 points, knocking down a combined five 3-pointers that generally came at the most opportune of times.
“Lillie was phenomenal,” McKinstry said. “Brodi and Lenaejha were great; so was Camryn (Swanson). This is the two-year plan we started a year ago with this sophomore group. This conference is so tough and now we have to go and represent it well and hopefully win some games in Arkansas.”
Neither Nija Collier nor Kisi Young played half the game and combined for just 10 shots because of foul trouble but Collier still scored 10 points and Young seven. Camryn Swanson added six points, Caitlyn Stewart five, Lexy Watts four and Caroline Hoppock three to round out the scoring.
But it wasn’t the offense that won this one. It was a defense that limited the Scotties to 24 of 72 shots for a chilly 33.3 percent and totally dominated the rebounding 54-30. In addition to Moore’s 14 rebounds, Byrd had eight, Swanson seven, Young five, Stewart four and Collier three.
With Moore and Collier each swatting away a pair of shots and Bryd, Evans, Swanson, Hoppock and others clogging up the middle, the Blue Devils gave up almost no close-range shots. Forced to go outside, the Scotties were just 2-for-18 from 3-point through three quarters (11.1 percent) before connecting on six treys the final period (8-of-31).
“Highland is a great team and they’re very talented at driving the basketball so we just wanted to try and stay in their way as best we could,” McKinstry said. “They made six 3-pointers in the fourth quarter so that reflects a bit of a difference on the final stats but coming into the fourth quarter they were 2 for 18 from 3-point, which helped us being able to guard their drives as well as we did.”
Highland led only 36 seconds as Moore and Stewart erased any concerns that the Blue Devils might be too tight by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers and Moore tossed in a blocked shot on the way to a 9-4 lead in the first two minutes. Closest Highland could get was 28-26 only to have the Blue Devils pitch a shutout the final 2½ minutes of the half while building a 35-26 lead.
Byrd and Moore led the way the first half, each with 11 points. Moore also had nine rebounds and Byrd six and three assists and the lead might have been far greater had it not been for eight KCKCC turnovers the Scotties converted into 14 points – mostly on steals and breakaway layups.
Shooting 57.1 percent from the field the third quarter, the Blue Devils built their lead to 53-34 in the first five minutes and then quickly repulsed a couple of late Highland challenges. The Scotties got to 61-50 with eight minutes left but Moore just beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer and Collier scored off a rebound to rebuild the lead to 66-50.
Highland again got it to 66-56 with 6:20 left by Evans responded immediately with a corner 3-pointer, Moore scored twice from close range and Swanson hit a trey – a 10-0 run for a 76-56 bulge.
KCKCC, which needed only 51 shots for 25 field goals for 49.0 percent (9-of-22 from three, .409), led for all but one minute and 14 seconds.