Kansas City Kansas Community College is one win from another trip to the NJCAA DII national women's basketball tournament courtesy of the Blue Devils' biggest win of the season.
Trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Blue Devils surged to a 12-point lead in the second half and then had to hold on for dear life for a 64-59 win over Labette.
The win vaulted the fifth ranked Blue Devils into the Plains Region VI championship game against unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Johnson County Saturday at Friends University in Wichita. Tipoff is at noon. The game will be streamed on the KJCCC website. JCCC (19-0) defeated Highland 80-41 in Wednesday's other semifinal.
The Blue Devils led 62-52 with four minutes to go only to have the Cardinals close to 62-59 and set up the biggest play of the game – a block of a game-tying 3-point attempt by Labette's Tamiah Robinson by 5-7 sophomore guard Aliyah Myers with 23 seconds remaining. The block was recovered by KCKCC's Mercer Roberts, who made two game-clinching free throws with 19.7 seconds to go.
"Great job defensively by Aliyah," said KCKCC Coach Joe McKinstry. "We were fortunate to be ahead by three instead of two when they'd probably go for the basket. And then Mercer was strong in getting the rebound and stepping up and making those free throws."
KCKCC scored the first seven points of the game only to have the Cardinals finish the first quarter on a 23-5 run and a 23-12 lead. Labette's biggest lead ballooned to 27-12 before DJ Guillory got things reversed, scoring 13 of her game high 14 points in the first half.
The Blue Devils finally went ahead for good on a Myers' 3-pointer and an Ikla Elam layup early in the third quarter. Outscoring Labette 20-10 in the third quarter, KCKCC led 54-45 after three periods and widened the margin to 52-40 with four minutes to go and before winning a close race to the finish.
"Even though I was not happy at the end of the first quarter, I said 'We're all right,' we just have to play our way and for us to respond with a 22-12 second quarter and get within one at the half was huge," said McKinstry. "Guillory was terrific in the second quarter. She knocked down a three, drove to the back and was huge on defense."
Without a field goal the final 4:29, the Blue Devils were just 3-of-17 on fourth quarter shots for a frigid 17.6 percent. Unable to convert any of their last five shots, the Blue Devils resorted to defense highlighted by big defensive rebounds by Guillory and Roberts and culminated by Myers' game-saving block of Robinson's hurried 3-point attempt.
In addition to Guillory's 14 points and seven rebounds, KCKCC got 11 points and five rebounds from Elam and 10 points from Jewell Hart, who was playing in only her second game after sitting out most of the season with an injury. Myers added seven points, eight rebounds and six assists, Tiaria Earnest five points and three assists and Roberts six points and seven rebounds.
Blue Devil reserves were also pivotal, getting five points from DQ Guillory and key field goals from Aysia Arrowood and Faith Putz and outscoring the Cardinals 23-11. In addition, KCKCC had just eight turnovers to 18 from Labette although the Cardinals had a 54-44 rebound edge and outshot the Blue Devils .347-.333.
"While they didn't score a lot, Murcer, Hart and Elam made things difficult and had some big shots and rebounds," said McKinstry. "They (Labette) scored 70 points on us a week ago so I was pleased we held them to 59 points. And we won the second half rebound battle."
Saturday's meeting will be the third between JCCC and KCKCC, the Cavaliers winning 65-53 and 75-55 for the Blue Devils (19-2) only losses of the season. However, in 2016, the Blue Devils dropped a 91-61 decision at JCCC only to come back two weeks to defeat the Cavaliers 73-66 in the regional little game on the way to cruising too the national championship.