NO. 8 KCKCC WOMEN DEAL NO. 7 HIGHLAND FIRST LOSS IN 18 GAMES
Kansas City Kansas Community College officially stamped itself among the elite in the nation's most competitive NJCAA Division II women's basketball conference Saturday.
One of three teams ranked in the top eight teams in DII, the No. 8 Lady Blue Devils handed No. 7 ranked and two-time national tournament qualifier Highland its first loss of the season with a furious, hard-fought 63-60 home court win.
"Exciting – and intense," said KCKCC Coach Valerie Stambersky, whose Blue Devils had to overcome a rash of turnovers and sub-par free throwing before backup point guard Arrica Daye clinched the win by grabbing her own missed free throw and dribbling out the final seconds to set off a wild mid-court celebration.
Trailing 26-21 late in a first half that had two ties and eight lead changes, the Blue Devils ran off 10 straight points on the way to a 33-30 halftime lead and were never headed the rest of the way. With less than five minutes remaining, the lead had grown to 56-46 on three-point field goals by Cheyenne North, the first of her career, and Cierra Gaines.
But just when it looked like the Blue Devils were in command, Highland turned up the defensive pressure, forcing six KCKCC turnovers in the final 4½ minutes. The Blue Devils further contributed to the Scotties' rally by missing 8 of 10 free throws in the final 2:34. After Highland had closed to 61-59, Erin Anderson made one of two free throws with 1:26 left and Cassidy Harbert added another with 24 seconds to go to keep the margin at three.
"The three-pointers by Cheyenne and Cierra were big and so was Erin Anderson's free throw that gave us a 3-point lead," said Stambersky. "With Cassidy Harbert in early foul trouble, Arrica Daye stepped in and gave us a different look. Defensively, I thought we were a lot more focused the second half."
Highland drained four three-point goals the first half but managed only 2-of-15 the second half (13.3 percent) on the way to 37.9 percent shooting for the game. The Blue Devils, meanwhile were 15-of-29 the first half (.517) and finished with 24-of-50 for the game to offset an uncharacteristic 26 turnovers and just 12-of-27 free throws.
Gaines led the scoring with 16 points while North had a huge double double, 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Daye and Anderson each added seven points, Janai Mitchell six and Harbert and Rashaun Casey five each. Harbert and Mitchell also had seven rebounds apiece while Daye led in assists with three.
The win boosted the Blue Devils' DII record to 3-0, just a half-game back of No. 1 Johnson County (4-0), and their overall record to 17-2 heading into a DI Jayhawk Conference clash at Independence Wednesday night. For Highland, the Region VI champion and national tournament qualifier in each of the last two seasons, the loss was its first to any DII team other than No. 1 JCCC under coach BJ Smith.