by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Kansas City Kansas Community College’s reign as the No. 1 team in NJCAA Division II women’s basketball will come to an end in early December.
No. 2 ranked Kirkwood Community College (4-0) assured that Saturday with a 70-50 win on its own floor in the Kirkwood Classic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The loss left the Blue Devils 4-1 heading into a 6 p.m. home game Tuesday with Park University junior varsity.
Inspired by the chance to knock off No. 1, Kirkwood scored the game’s first 19 points as the Eagles took advantage of a decided edge in experience (eight sophomores) and size (four 6-footers). But even then, the Eagles had to turn back a pair of Blue Devil comebacks.
Trailing 24-4 in the first quarter, KCKCC cut the deficit in half at 44-34 at halftime by knocking down 9-of-19 shots. The Eagles rebuilt a 52-34 lead to start the third quarter only to have the Blue Devils climb back within nine points with 8:39 left. However, they could get no closer.
“This was a great opportunity for us today,” KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry said. “Kirkwood is one of the premier programs in the country and has been for a long time (2017 and 2018 national champion). They’ve got a very good team again this year and I was proud of the way our girls battled and made them earn the victory.
“Anytime you spot a team a lead like we did (19-0), you make it hard on yourself but our girls fought hard and got themselves back in the game. For a very young and inexperienced group, that shows a lot about their toughness.”
KCKCC freshman Kamryn Estell led all scorers with 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds while the Blue Devils’ lone returning veteran, Brodi Byrd, added nine points, and freshman Tiaira Earnest eight. Kirkwood had five Eagles score in double figures but none had more than 11 points in a well-balanced offense.
Estell had 10 points and Byrd, Aliyah Myers, Mercer Roberts and Destiny Zamudio had 3-pointers in a 27-18 second quarter but the Blue Devils never shot better than 21 percent in the other three periods and finished at 27.3 percent from the field and .205 from the perimeter.
“We’ve got to get in the gym and increase our ability to make shots,” McKinstry said. “This group is very fast and all are capable of driving the basketball. They do a great job sharing the ball and creating open shots for one another. We just haven’t earned the right yet to make those shots at a consistent percentage. But we will get better.”
Defensively, KCKCC forced the Eagles into 21 turnovers while committing 19 but Kirkwood dominated the rebounding 47-33 and shot 38.2 percent from the field.
In addition to Tuesday’s home contest with Park junior varsity, the Blue Devils are also home for the Keith Lindsey Classic this coming weekend, with Southwestern (Iowa) visiting here Friday at 6 p.m. and North Central Missouri Saturday at 4 p.m. KCKCC’s reign as pre-season No. 1 will continue until December when the first regular poll is announced.