Five things to like about KCKCC’s women’s tournament chances

KCKCC will bid for a second NJCAA DII national championship with a team of, front row, from left, Diamond Williams, Camryn Swanson, Lenaejha Evans, Lexy Watts, Caitlyn Stewart and Brodi Byrd; second row, assistant coach Timeka O’Neal, Carson Chandler, Kisi Young, Lillie Moore, head coach Joe McKinstry, Nija Collier, Caroline Hoppock, Lizzle Stark and manager Liz Briggs. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins

Five things you have to like about Kansas City Kansas Community College’s chances in the opening game of the 2019 NJCAA Division II national women’s tournament next Tuesday.

The No. 3 seeded Blue Devils (28-4) will meet No. 14 seeded Chesapeake College (20-5) in the tournament opener Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Pioneer Pavilion on the campus of North Ark Community College in Harrison, Arkansas. Here’s what the Blue Devils have going for them:

Familiarity – This will not be the first game for KCKCC’s sophomores in Pioneer Pavilion. All played in a 78-75 loss to North Ark Nov. 15, 2017, a loss the Blue Devils avenged three weeks later with a 73-57 home court thumping. The Blue Devils also will practice on the court Monday.

Battle-tested – Playing in the nation’s toughest DII conference has its merits – once you get through the Regional. Seven of KCKCC’s last nine games were against teams ranked in the NJCAA’s Top 10 with the Blue Devils winning six. The Blue Devils defeated No. 10 Johnson County three times, won two of three from No. 6 Highland and beat No. 9 Labette. No team in the entire 16-team tournament had to go through a schedule as tough.

Depth – Throughout the season coach Joe McKinstry has rotated six sophomores and three freshmen in and out without missing a beat.

In 6-0 Nija Collier, 6-1 Lillie Moore and 5-9 Kisi Young, McKinstry can rotate three sophs averaging more than eight rebounds a game in the front court. Assist leaders Caitlyn Stewart and Lexy Watts split time at the point guard. Sophomore Camryn Swanson and freshman Brodi Boyd divide time at the wing. Freshmen Lenaejha Evans and Caroline Hoppock provide great versatility, Evans from the wing and backcourt, while Hoppock is capable of bringing the ball up court, shooting 3-pointers and playing the post..

The depth is accentuated by a look at the scoring averages – seven players at nearly eight points a game or better. Collier (17.2), Moore (15.2) and Young (10.2) provide the interior scoring and all are shooting better than 54 percent for the field. Evans (11.4) is also shooting above 50 percent and third in scoring while Swanson (8.9), Boyd (8.5) and Hoppock (7.8) are the 3-point leaders, each with 55 or more.

Statistically – When it comes to scoring, KCKCC ranks in the top five nationally in virtually every category as well as rebounding. The national rankings:
Points – No. 1, 2,877; per game No. 2, 89.9
3-pointers – No. 3, 9.5 per game; attempts No. 3, 27.8
Free throws – No. 3, 16.2 per game; attempts, No. 5, 23.8.
Field goal percentage – No. 6, 47.3 percent
Assists – No. 5, 19.1 per game
Rebounds – Defensive, No. 5, 32.5 per game

Coaching – With 15 seconds left in overtime in a 76-76 tie with Johnson County, McKinstry spurned the usual protocol of having your best player drive to the basket in hopes of scoring or drawing a foul and told Collier “shoot the three.” “I thought it gave us our best look because we were struggling inside,” said McKinstry. Collier did as ordered, a game-winning three with 1.8 seconds left.

Three days later facing a Highland team averaging 89.3 points a game that had hung 94 points on KCKCC earlier, McKinstry designed a defense that limited the Scotties to 71 points and 33.3 percent shooting in an 84-71 cruise in the region championship game..

All national tourney games will be streamed on the NJCAA website but there is a charge – $4.99 for a single game or $14.99 for the 5-day tournament. To sign up, go to Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. All-tournament passes are also available for $40.

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