Stewart’s game-tying 3-ponter set up Collier’s game-winning trey in overtime
by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
It was the biggest field goal in Kansas City Kansas Community College basketball history.
No, it was not Nija Collier’s game winning 3-pointer in a 79-76 overtime win over Johnson County. That game would not have gone into overtime had not 5-5 sophomore guard Caitlyn Stewart from Wichita Maize made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to force overtime.
KCKCC trailed by four points with 18 seconds remaining when Lillie Moore made the first of two free throws. Her second went out of bounds off a JCCC defender.
“Quite honestly we wanted to get a quick score and then foul but we had an errant pass to the post and the ball bounced out to Caitlyn,” coach Joe McKinstry remembered. “The Johnson County girl fell to open up an opportunity for Caitlyn and she let it fly.”
It was Stewart’s third game saving 3-pointer in the final five minutes.
“Caitlyn realized last year her perimeter shooting was her downfall,” McKinstry said. “She only shot 14 percent from three and was not respected as a shooter. She worked extremely hard all summer and was ready for that moment.”
KCKCC led 76-73 in overtime only to have the Cavaliers tie the game on a 3-point shot that hit the front of the rim, bounced high of the backboard and dropped through with 15 seconds left.
“It’s a lot easier when the score is tied,” McKinstry said. “It was a simple play, one that Nija sets a flat screen and it was up to Lenaejha (Evans) to drive to the basket or get the ball back to the screener (Nija). We really had a good feeling Nija would be open because Johnson had done a good job in the middle. Lenaijha did a good job of drawing both defenders and made a great pass to Nija. I would take Nija from the top of the key over just about anyone I’ve ever seen.” With just 1.8 seconds left after Collier’s 3-pointer, the Cavaliers could not get off a game-tying shot.
The road to the national championship, however, started far sooner, before the holiday break when the Blue Devils dropped a 76-74 game to Washburn’s junior varsity in Topeka after defeating the same team by 29 points earlier.
“We didn’t play well but we still had plenty of opportunities,” McKinstry said. “We turned the ball and committed a foul to put them ahead. We drew up a play but our execution was not run properly. It was a horrible loss and definitely a low point.”
The next loss nine games later – a 74-67 home court loss to Labette in the Jayhawk Conference opener – was a season changer.
“It was certainly a wake-up call,” McKinstry said. “The girls were unsure of themselves. They had never beaten Labette, Johnson or Highland. They were questioning themselves if they had toughness or ability to compete with the teams to compete with to win the conference so we put our focus on not getting out-worked and other teams playing harder than us.”
The Blue Devils would lose only one of their last 15 games.
“The next two games we went to Hesston and put it to them (114-67) and then doubled the score (82-41) on a Fort Scott team that had been ranked,” McKinstry said. A layup off a rebound by Brodi Byrd at the buzzer let KCKCC escape 75-73 in a re-match at Fort Scott before a foul-marred 94-88 loss at nationally ranked Highland.
“I was pleased with the effort against Highland,” McKinstry said. “We missed entirely too many shots around baskets but the effort was there; just not the blue print we wanted. And the rhythm was horrible with 106 free throws. We were never able to get comfortable.”
The Blue Devils rebounded with a 64-60 win over Johnson County to clinch KCKCC’s first Jayhawk championship since 1997 and then followed a week later with the 79-76 overtime win over JCCC – the first 3-game sweep ever over their arch-rivals.
“We had three incredible games with Johnson and they really helped prepare us for the tournament,” McKinstry said.
Facing No. 6 Highland in the Region VI final in Park City, the Blue Devils used a suffocating defense to build leads of 20 points in an 84-71 win.
“Our defense against Highland and in the national championship game were the best all season,” McKinstry said.
KCKCC was never challenged in the national tournament in Harrison, Arkansas, leading by 20 or more points in all four games and by 25 in the championship contest.