Lady Blue Devils beat Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 12 seeded teams by an average of 19 points per game
They are the champions. And it wasn't even close!
Capped by an 81-59 thrashing of Illinois Central on Saturday, Kansas City Kansas Community College claimed its first ever NJCAA Division II National Basketball Championship.
In a span of four days, the Lady Blue Devils took down the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 and No. 12 seeded teams by an average of 19 points per game. After a 72-53 win that ended Waubonsee's 18-game winning streak on Wednesday, the Blue Devils defeated No. 5 Owens 78-64 on Thursday, unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Monroe 81-59 Friday and No. 2 Illinois Central 81-59 in the national championship game.
Those wins came on the heels of a 63-57 win over previously ranked No. 1 and undefeated Johnson County in the Region VI game and enabled the Lady Blue Devils to finish 33-3, the best record in history next to the 35-2 mark posted in 1997. It also earned the Blue Devils a trip to the State Capital in Topeka Wednesday with a meeting with Gov. Brownback.
"My concern going into the championship game was if we would be able to continue to play as hard as we had the previous three days, especially with such a thin squad (nine healthy players)," said first year KCKCC head coach Joe McKinstry. "If we could sustain that intensity, I thought we had a good chance."
As it turned out, he had no worries. Jemia Carpenter scored on the first play of the game for Illinois Central. KCKCC scored the next 12 points on the way to a 17-4 lead just 6½ minutes into the game. Erin Anderson and Brooklyn Wagler each had a 3-pointer and a layup to pace the pivotal start and the first of Sierra Roberts' four treys made it 17-4.
If there was a turning point, it came at the start of the second quarter after Illinois Central had closed to 21-15. "We had come out with a ton of energy but then kind of lost some of the early adrenalin and let Illinois Central get back into the game," said McKinstry. "We had played man-to-man defensively every minute up until then so we switched to a zone defense which doesn't take as much energy and had been so effective in the regional tournament."
The switch could not have been more effective – a 21-7 second quarter that opened a 42-22 halftime bulge. Cheyenne North had three field goals in the surge including a trey, Roberts two more 3-pointers and Anderson five points and the Blue Devils were never challenged the rest of the night.
Five Blue Devils scored in double figures. Roberts led with 16 including 4-of-8 treys. Wagler had a double double with15 points and 10 rebounds as did North with 14 points and a game high 16 rebounds. Anderson added 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals while Brie Tauai had 11 points off the bench and Aricca Day quarterbacked the offense with five assists and four steals.
North, who had a career high 19 rebounds (third best all-time) against Owens, was chosen the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Injuring a shoulder in the second game and uncertain for the semifinals, North nevertheless averaged a double double with 13.3 points and 11.8 rebounds along with 22 assists and blocked nine shots. Anderson, a sophomore who averaged 15.5 points for the four games, and Wagler, a freshman from SM Northwest who averaged 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, joined North on the All-Tournament team.
The championship win came on the heels of arguably the Lady Blue Devils' best offensive performance of the season – a sizzling 13-of-24 on three-point attempts for 54.2 percent in the 81-59 semifinal win over No. 1 Monroe. Anderson was a perfect 4-for-4 from distance in a 19-point, 8-rebound effort, Roberts 4-of-8 in scoring 16 points. Wagler added 15 points and 9 rebounds, North 13 points and 9 rebounds and Daye 12 points and 8 assists.
Eight of the three-pointers came in a 37-27 first half and the Blue Devils opened the second half with an 8-2 run and led by as many as 21 in the final quarter. Multi-talented Shanice Johnson had 34 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for Monroe but the five starters were held to a combined 21 points.
"We shot the ball from three better than we have all season because our girls shared the ball and executed phenomenally," said McKinstry. "We've told our players all season if they are open, shoot the ball and when you move the ball well, it makes it easier to get in rhythm and knock down shots."
The torrid shooting and 16 assists on 24 goals enabled KCKCC to overcome a sizeable height disadvantage. "Definitely one of our top challenges, the No. 1 seed and 31-0 but we held their starters to eight field goals in 40 attempts with our defensive effort and intensity," said McKinstry.
"I don't think that it amazed me that we won the championship," added McKinstry. "The thing that was amazing to me was how thin our roster was and the minutes the girls were playing. You are not supposed to play that many minutes and play with as much intensity as we did."
Every starter played at least 32 minutes in the championship game and none less than 29 in any of the four games. Freshman Brie Tauai contributed 35 points and 15 minutes a game off the bench. Three freshmen, Valencia Scott, Kyliea Jarrett and Brooklyn Bockover played the rest of the minutes along with sophomore Janay Jacobs, who got in the championship game despite shoulder surgery just prior to the regional tournament.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS – Kansas City Kansas Community College's women's basketball team had every right to proclaim their right to No. 1 after winning the College's first ever NJCAA Division II national championship. (KCKCC Photo by Jason Browar)