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 March 23, 2013

By Steve Carpenter, HCC Sports Information Director

SALINA – One of the most helpless feelings for a basketball team at any point in the season is when shots won’t fall.

The fact that it happened to the Hutchinson Community College women’s basketball team at the start of its NJCAA Women’s Division I National Tournament semifinal on Friday night just magnified the helplessness the Lady Dragons were dealing with. For every shot they missed, the distance from Central Arizona and a berth in a second-straight national championship game kept getting wider and wider.

Second-ranked Central Arizona scored the first 23 points of the game and Hutchinson’s first points of the game didn’t come for 11 minutes, 50 seconds. The Lady Dragons made it a five-point game with less than 7 minutes remaining, but ultimately fell in the national semifinals 52-40 to the Vaqueras.

Hutchinson (35-2) will now play Florida Gulf Coast in a 5 p.m. Consolation game on Saturday at the Salina Bicentennial Center. Central Arizona will play defending national champion Trinity Valley in the championship game at 7 p.m.

“Any time you get off to a start like we did, you put yourself in a hole and it’s hard to get out of that hole against great teams.” HCC head coach John Ontjes said. “A lot of it had to do with our shot selection and execution, not being able to score around the rim and attack the basket. We had zero free throws at halftime. We settled for way too many outside jumpers.”

Added freshman Jamie Patrick: “It came down to making shots and that’s what we had to do.”

The Lady Dragons had all kids of season offensive lows against Central Arizona. HCC finished 12 of 53 (22.6 percent), 5 of 25 from 3-point range and 11 of 16 from the foul line. HCC committed 18 turnovers and rebounding was tied at 39-all.

Patrick had 10 points and eight rebounds to lead the Lady Dragons. Walter finished with nine points and six rebounds. Sorrells and Herl finished with six points each.

Edwards had 28 points and eight rebounds to lead the Vaqueras. Howard had 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Central Arizona shot 31.0 percent (13 of 42), going 4 of 14 from long range and 22 of 33 from the free-throw line. The Vaqueras had 16 turnovers.

Hutchinson’s start against Central Arizona was simply nightmarish. The Lady Dragons missed their first 12 shots and committed eight turnovers against a Vaquera defense what overwhelmed HCC with length and quickness.

HCC trailed 7-0 just 2 minutes, 18 seconds into the game. At the 15-minute mark, it was 13-0. At the 10-minute mark, Central’s lead ballooned to 18-0 and when All-America candidate Brea Edwards sank two free throws with 8:56 remaining, HCC trailed by a whopping 23-0 deficit.

Hutchinson’s largest deficit this season had been 10 points.

“It was frustrating, but we still had to keep going and keep shooting and keep working hard to go get rebounds for second second-chance opportunities,” said freshman Briana Starks, who finally cracked the scoring drought with a 17-foot jumper with 8:10 to play in the first half. “Everybody did their job and didn’t give up. We kept shooting and they just didn’t fall tonight.”

The Lady Dragons limped into the locker room trailing 30-10 after shooting a frigid 4 of 27 in the first half.

But something was starting to happen in the final 10 minutes of the first half. HCC’s top-ranked Jayhawk West defense was starting to find its legs after the wobbly start. Hutchinson’s defense – mainly zone after starting in a man defense – limited Central Arizona to only one field goal over the final 9 minutes of the first half. That was a trend that continued in the final 20 minutes.

“We never had a thought that we were going to lose, even down 20 at halftime,” Starks said. “We knew we could come back. Especially in the first half, we knew we had to keep shooting and keep going after it and the shots would start to fall.”

Hutchinson matched its first-half offensive output just 2 minutes, 45 seconds into the second half when sophomore Jade Herl cut the lead to 33-21 and capped off an 11-0 HCC run.

While the offense was starting to find its way, HCC’s zone defense and hard work continued to frustrate Central Arizona. The Vaqueras (31-1) made their first field-goal attempt of the second half, a deep Edwards’ 3-pointer. Central then missed their next 12 shots and didn’t score another field goal for the next 12 minutes, 46 seconds, scoring just two free throws over that span.

In fact, Hutchinson’s defense held Central Arizona to only eight field goals over the final 29 minutes of the game.

“I told them that I believe we are still going to win the game in the second half.” Ontjes said. “We fought extremely hard. I was very proud of our kids in the second half. They turned up the intensity and if we would have made a few free throws or get it down to a one-possession game, who knows. Things just didn’t go our way tonight.”

HCC opened the second half on a 20-5 run; scoring the final nine of that run uninterrupted and when Patrick hit two free throws with 6:49 to play, the Central lead dwindled to five points at 35-30.

Central’s Edwards took over at that point. She scored 12 of Central’s next 14 points to keep the Lady Dragons at arm’s length. Her back-to-back field goals pushed the lead back out to 12 at 47-35 with 3:11 to go, but an Aja Sorrells three-point play and Chirsstasia Walter layup after a Herl steal brought the Lady Dragons back within 47-40 with 2:14 to go.

The comeback ended there as HCC was unable to score again.

“We knew we had a whole new 20-minute half,” Patrick said. “We had to get some stops and get some baskets. We tried and got it to five points. Being down so much, we could have quite, but we didn’t. We got it down to five and couldn’t get over that hump.”

GAME NOTES – HCC is now 9-6 all-time in the NJCAA Tournament, 1-2 in semifinal games. … This was the fewest points scored for HCC in an NJCAA Tournament game. … The Lady Dragons have not allowed a team to shoot better than 50 percent in 219 consecutive games. … The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for HCC vs. nationally ranked teams. … The Lady Dragons are now 1-1 all-time vs. Central Arizona. … Jamie Patrick tied Joell Meyer (1993) for fourth on the freshman 3-point list with 63. … The Lady Dragons moved in third in team history in made 3-pointers with 199. … Central’s Brea Edwards have individual opponent highs of 28 points and 11 free throws. … Central’s Joymeisa Howard had an opponent high 14 rebounds. … The Lady Dragons had season lows in points (40), points in a half (10), field goals (12), shot percentage (22.6%), assists (9) and steals (8).

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