By BRETT MARSHALL
The Garden City Lady Buffaloes basketball team had not seen a hole this deep all season.
And when they found themselves on the short end of a 12-point halftime deficit against Bishop Miege in the opening round of the Newton Invitational on Thursday night, things didn't look good.
The Lady Buffs very nearly climbed back to the surface, but came up short at the end, dropping a 48-44 decision to the Lady Stags.
Thursday's loss, just the second against 10 wins for the Lady Buffs, drops them into the consolation bracket, where they will play at 4:45 p.m. today against Bishop Carroll. Miege gets Newton in the 8:15 p.m. semifinal.
The Lady Buffs were coming off a nine-day layoff, and the rustiness was apparent at the game's outset.
Miege came out red-hot from 3-point range, raining down 7-of-10 treys in the opening half, as the Lady Buffs couldn't find their defensive feet to combat the sharpshooting effort by the Lady Stags.
"They came out way more aggressive than us, and I think we were a little shell-shocked," GCHS coach David Upton said. "We were a little rusty coming off the layoff, and it took us a while to get adjusted to how physical they were playing and we had to find a way to match that."
Garden City found itself down by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, trailing 17-7, before a late bucket by Kristen Padilla made it 17-9 at the end of the opening period.
Things didn't get much better in the second quarter, either, as Miege (7-4) continued its hot-handed shooting from behind the arc. After draining three of the treys in the first, the Stags tacked on four more and by intermission, leading scorer Lexie Hughes, who has signed at Missouri State University, had knocked down three, as had Kelsey Wolf.
"It won't show up in the stats, but I really thought it was one of the better games Johna (McClelland) has played," Upton said of his 6-2 senior center. "She got more aggressive on the defensive end, had some nice blocks, defended well and did what we need her to do down low."
Early in the second quarter, the Lady Buffs had trimmed their deficit to three, 17-14, but then the 3-point barrage started again for the Lady Stags, to rebuild their advantage to 31-19 at the break.
Whatever Upton said at the half apparently lit a fire under the Lady Buffs as they came out and slowly, but surely climbed back into the game.
"We told the girls at halftime that they weren't doing a good job of getting out and covering their shooters," Upton said of that early onslaught. "I thought we were much better in the second half (Miege just 1-of-6). We looked more like the team that we've been all season."
While it didn't completely show on the scoreboard, Garden had begun to tighten up its defense on Miege, and by the time the third quarter drew to a close, they were down by 10, 39-29.
In the fourth, the Lady Buffs played the type of basketball that has been their trademark all season. They were aggressive, they hit free throws and they caused turnovers.
"I'm not happy that we lost the game, but I'm sure pleased with the effort these girls gave in the second half," Upton said. "They've got a lot of fight and won't give up. I'm very proud of the way they hung in there, got themselves back in the game, and really gave us a chance to win the game if we get a couple of shots to go down."
Down by seven, 42-35, with five minutes to play, the Lady Buffs went on a 6-2 run to make it a 44-41 game with about two minutes to play on a pair of Jacksenie Tornero free throws. Hughes nailed a pair of charity shots with 1:39 showing before Tornero and Tionna McKee cashed in 3-of-4 free throws, making it 46-44 with just 30 seconds to play.
Miege turned the ball over with 22 seconds showing, its second miscue with under a minute to play, but a Taryn Tempel shot just missed. Miege missed the front end of a bonus free throw opportunity and then Garden turned it over with 11 seconds left. Hughes iced the game with a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining.
Hughes was the big thorn in the Buffs' side, finishing with a game-high 19 points while Wolf added 12 to the Stags' winning effort.
Bernbeck was the lone double-figure scorer for Garden City, making 7-of-8 free throws en route to a 13-point outing. Tempel, the team's leading scorer, was held in check for much of the game by a swarming Miege defense, and finished with nine.
The Lady Buffs did have a stellar performance at the free throw stripe, finishing 20-of-26 (77 percent).
In earlier first-round games, both in the upper half of the bracket, it was top-seed Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel rolling past Goddard, 64-40, and Olathe Northwest handed Andover Central a 61-39 loss.
The tournament was to continue today with consolation and semifinal games and then will conclude on Saturday.
Bishop Miege 17 14 8 9 -- 48
Garden City 9 10 10 15 -- 44
Bishop Miege (48) — McFeders 1 0-1 2, Piggie 0 0-0 0, Wolf 4 1-2 12, Hughes 5 5-6 19, Villegas 2 2-2 7, Vaughn 2 0-0 4, Shurn 2 0-4 4. Totals 16 8-15 48.
Garden City (44) — McClelland 2 1-2 5, Padilla 1 0-0 2, Tornero 1 5-6 7, Brunson 2 0-0 4, Tempel 3 3-6 9, McKee 0 4-4 4, Bernbeck 3 7-8 13. Totals 12 20-26 44.
3-point goals--Bishop Miege 8 (Wolf 3, Hughes 4, Villegas 1), Garden City 0. Fouls--Miege 20, Garden City 11. Fouled out--none.