Lady Busters start postseason with high expectations
By ADAM HOLT
By all accounts, it's already been a successful season for the Garden City Community College women's basketball team.
The Lady Broncbusters are ranked No. 12 in the nation, have the most regular-season wins in school history and own a win over a No. 1 team.
But really, the season has just started.
The Busters (27-3) are the No. 2 seed in the Jayhawk West, and host Northwest Kansas Tech at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Perryman Athletic Complex to open the Region VI playoffs. Last year's run to the region semifinals was a nice surprise. This year, anything less than the Region VI title would be a disappointment.
"This is the first year that I've been at Garden City that we've gone into postseason with expectations on our shoulders," GCCC head coach Alaura Sharp said. "So that brings a whole new level of focus. People expect us to win now. Where in the past, it was kinda like, 'Well, let's just see how far we can go.'"
The Busters will certainly be favored Saturday, and in the second round on Tuesday, should they beat NW Kansas Tech. Garden City is promoting a "white-out," encouraging fans to wear white for Saturday's game.
NWKT was automatically slotted in as the No. 7 team in the east, and was 6-23 heading into a Thursday night game. The Mavericks own wins over Dodge City and Trinidad State (Colo.), two teams the Busters went a combined 4-0 against.
Part of the classic formula for an upset is for the underdog to make a lot of 3-pointers. NW Kansas Tech averages 4.9 made threes per game, and Leticia Rodriguez (43.1 percent) and Shaletha Mayberry (35.7 percent) can both hit from behind the arc at a good clip.
Rodriguez is averaging 15.6 points per game in just eight contests since gaining eligibility at the beginning of the semester, and Mayberry averages 15.8 points per game. Rodriguez has made at least two 3-pointers in seven of eight games, and has three games where she made four from behind the arc. Mayberry went 6-of-11 on threes against Eastern Wyoming, and has made at least four 3-pointers in five games this season.
The Mavericks don't have a lot of height, with just one player at 6-feet, and a pair of 5-foot-11 players. Avoiding mismatches on defense will be key for the Busters, to keep their larger post players from getting drawn out and beaten on the perimeter.
Getting back in transition and being solid in perimeter defense are a couple concerns for Sharp.
"The ability to take a play off is the difference between a made three in a game like this," she said.
Of course, Garden City has plenty going for it, too, including a seven-game winning streak that began with its upset of then-No. 1 Hutchinson. The latest entry was a 69-44 beatdown on the road against Seward County on Tuesday to close the regular season.
"I think feeling like you played one of your most solid 40-minute games, leading into your postseason, is about the best way you can feel coming out of the regular season," Sharp said of beating the Saints.
And it's no coincidence that stretch of games coincides with sophomore post Tamara Jones' seven-game double-double streak, which has her averaging 21.4 points and 12.4 rebounds, just a shade above her conference-leading season averages of 20.4 and 10.3.
Fellow sophomore post Deni Jacobs adds 12 points per game, and sophomore Tahlia Pope is averaging 14.3 points per game over her last six contests.
The other advantage Garden City might have in the playoffs is experience. Jones, Jacobs, Nicole Young and Brittany Maxwell were all on last year's team that lost to Independence, 71-58, in the semifinals. Sharp said the thought of that game "brings back a little bit of a bad taste."
With the postseason starting, the Busters know they have to stay focused — which has been an issue all season, in their three losses and in some closer-than-needed wins. Now though, a lapse in focus could mean the season's over.
"Today, when I said, if we lose, we're done, it was kinda like their eyes got really big," Sharp said. "I just talked to them about having to be all-in each and every night. There's no thinking ahead to the next day or the next practice."