Kansas City Kansas Community College has returned to the pinnacle of NJCAA DII women's basketball, winning the 2019 national championship with an 84-59 thrashing of win over Union County, NJ.
The championship is the second for the Blue Devils, who won the 2016 national title by an average of 19 points per game. This year the margin was nearly 18 points a game and the final score nearly the same (KCKCC won 81-59 in 2016).
The Blue Devils led each of their first three national tourney games by 20 or more points and the championship game was no different. Cheered on by a raucous boisterous crowd, the Blue Devils held the Owls scoreless for the first five minutes while opening a 10-0 lead. Ahead 17-10 after one quarter, the Blue Devils widened the lead to 40-22 at halftime and stretched it to 30 points in the second half. And it could have been more had they not missed shots usually made.
Nija Collier led the early surge, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds on the way to being named the tournament's most valuable player. Collier finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. She was joined on the all-tournament team by the Magnolia, Ark., duo of Kisi Young and Lillie Moore. Young had 13 points and 9 rebounds; Moore 12 rebounds and 6 points.
Freshman Lenaejha Evans just missed a second double-double in two nights, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 rebounds and sophomore Camryn Swanson knocked down three treys in an 11-point night. Brodi Byrd again put KCKCC ahead to stay with a game-opening 3-pointer and finished with nine points; Caroline Hoppock added five points, Caitlyn Stewart four points and three assists and Lexy Watts three points to round out the scoring
But again it was the defense that set the tone for the win. The Blue Devils limited the Owls to 10 of 34 first half shots (,294) in building the 40-22 halftime lead and 33.8 percent for the game (27 of 80). In addition, the defense gave up just two of 19 3-point attempts (.105). KCKCC also monopolized the rebounding 52-39 including 22 off the offensive boards while shooting 40.3 percent from the field (31 of 77) and .27.6 from 3-point (8 of 29).
"I believe the girls were as locked in and as calm as they've been all year," said KCKCC Coach Joe McKinstry, who was named NJCAA DII Coach of the Year. "Our girls were in better shape and they went out there and did what they do best which is to work hard. The embodiment of this team is that they go out and do what they're told to do. I know Union was one of the top scoring teams in the nation and they struggled. And I think they were only giving up 59 points a game and we hung up 84."
As Arkansas natives playing in their home state, the championship was super special for Young and Moore. "This is what we talked about since way last year," said Moore. "It's unreal now that we're here and have won it. I'm very proud of this team."
"I'm in shock right now," echoed Young, who had several reasons for the decisive win. "Our post play, our rebounding, our effort; everything we been working on all season."
"I think it was our defense, that's what it takes," said Collier. "It was a big win. I'm so happy. It's even bigger than beating Johnson County. This is the national championship!"
While McKinstry didn't favor one championship over the other, he did get emotional in a post-game TV interview. "Both were extremely gratifying, very different but very equal experiences. What people don't know is that while I coach these girls very hard, I love these girls and their families so very much and am so very, very proud. We have two rules. We don't negotiate on effort and we don't negotiate on team work and those were things I didn't have to deal with this year."
The championship continued the Jayhawk Conference's unparalleled success in the national tournament, something McKinstry felt very important. "We really felt an obligation to represent our conference to the best of our ability. It's the toughest in the country."
In the last six seasons, the Jayhawk has had teams in the Final Four each year. In addition to KCKCC's two championships, Johnson County won in 2015 and was second in 2017; Highland was second in 2014 and third last season. This year, four conference teams finished in the Top 10 in the NJCAA national rankings.