Officially, it was Sophomore Night for Kansas City Kansas Community College's No. 5 ranked women's basketball team Saturday. In reality, it was Mercer Roberts Night.
The 5-11 sophomore from Myrtle Beach, S.C., scored the first 12 Blue Devil points in the second half to help build a 19-point lead on the way to a 77-70 upset of previously unbeaten Labette.
The win, KCKCC's biggest of the season, ended Labette's 22-game winning streak dating back to last season, and put the Blue Devils (6-2) in position to clinch a first round bye in the Region VI playoffs beginning April 5. KCKCC (17-2) closes out regular season play at Fort Scott Wednesday.
Roberts, who had not scored more than 10 points in any game this season and was averaging 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, exceeded her all-time best in less than five minutes. She started the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers and then scored three straight layups for a 49-30 lead. She finished with a team high 19 points (7-10), seven rebounds and two assists.
As it turned out, the 19-point lead was barely enough. The Cardinals made repeated runs at catching up. Aliyah Myers' 3-pointer stemmed one charge; Roberts' layup stemmed another but it took four clutch free throws by DJ Guillory and key rebounds by Ikla Elam, Guillory and Roberts to hold on. Labette closed to 70-66 before Guillory made two free throws with 29 seconds left and then added two more after the Cardinals had closed to 73-70 with 18 seconds remaining.
Three Blue Devils joined Roberts in double figures. Guillory had 14 points and seven rebounds, Tiaira Earnest 13 points and three assists; and Elam 11 points and seven rebounds against a lanky Labette roster of seven 6-footers. However, it was the smaller Blue Devils who won the rebound battle 46-43. Paramount to the win was also the play of Aliyah Myers, who had eight assists and six steals in her final regular season game.
"Mercer Roberts played best game of her life," said KCKCC Coach Joe McKinstry. "We've known she's not just capable of making threes but that she can impact the game in other ways and today we saw that. Ikia Elam gave us a huge lift as the equalizer we needed around the basket against a team as big as Labette. She was aggressive, battled for rebounds and did a great job with what we needed from her defensively.
"With Hannah Valentine out for the season, we really needed DJ Guillory to pick up Hannah's minutes and today she was fantastic. She made plays around the rim, was very active rebounding on both ends and was great defensively as well. If I'm being honest though, everyone who got in contributed for us and had a huge role in this win. Sometimes you just need to prove to yourself of what is possible and I know they are capable of whatever they dedicate themselves to"