The pace of a furious first half against No. 9 ranked Highland proved overwhelming for Kansas City Kansas Community College’s Lady Blue Devils Saturday.
Shooting 48.1 percent, the Blue Devils stayed within striking range of the lankier Scotties before the pace against Highland’s aggressive pressing defense simply wore down the Blue Devils and their roster of just eight players, holding KCKCC to just two second half field goals in a 73-51 loss.
The loss left KCKCC 5-4 in the Region VI standings and set up a pivotal game Wednesday at Fort Scott in the Blue Devils’ pursuit of opening playoff action at home March 4. A win over the Lady Greyhounds (3-6 and 15-7 overall) would assure KCKCC (17-10) of no worse than fourth place. Highland, meanwhile, improved to 23-3 overall and stayed within a game of league-leading Johnson County (9-1) at 8-2 in regional play.
Both Highland and KCKCC opened at breakneck speed Saturday with the Scotties aggressively pressing their way to a 28-20 first quarter lead and stretching it to 43-34 at halftime by making 14-of 25 shots for 56 percent including 5-of-8 3-pointers.
The fast pace took a toll on both teams but more so on the Blue Devils, who had more points in the first quarter (20) than in the second half (17) when they were just 2-of-18 shots for 11.1 percent. Highland, meanwhile, scored 30 points in the second half after posting 28 the first quarter and was just 11-of-33 in the second half.
With Highland boasting a pair of 6-1 All-American hopefuls, sophomore Szonja Vukov of Hungary, who was the player of the year last year, and Brazilian freshman Mariane Carvalho, the Blue Devils’ big concern was in stopping the ‘twin towers’ and did a good job of it, allowing them a combined 21 points and 17 rebounds. But the Scotties got eight 3-pointers from a talented array of guards to build their early lead.
“We did a lot of good things,” KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry said. “For the first three quarters I felt like we really were just a couple of scoring possessions away from it being a tight game, Our energy and awareness defensively was as good as it’s been all year. We wanted to force them to make outside shots and unfortunately, in the first half, they did.
“Offensively, our plan was to attack and I felt like (we) did that for the most part and had them in some foul trouble. But we didn’t capitalize at the free throw line (16-of-27) and then just got gassed. Anytime you only score two field goals in a half, it’s going to be awfully hard to win. We ran out of energy and when that happens, mistakes happen.”
Brie Tauai led the Blue Devils with 17 points and eight rebounds. Aeriel Holiday added 12 points on 4-of-5 three-pointers; Brooklyn Wagler had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists; Kayla Horn nine points; and Millie Shade seven rebounds.
Both teams had 11 turnovers in the rapid fire first half but Highland had just four the second half while KCKCC finished with 20. Fouls also handicapped both teams. KCKCC point guard Kayla Horn picked up her fourth foul midway through the second quarter but did not foul out, but Wagler did while Highland lost one player on fouls and had four others with four.