GCCC women face tough Cowley squad in Region VI semis
By ADAM HOLT
Just two games stand between the Garden City Community College women's basketball team and a potential berth to the NJCAA national tournament.
After rolling through the first two rounds of the Region VI tournament, Friday's 3:30 p.m. semifinal matchup against Cowley looks to be a much stiffer test.
The 28-4 Lady Tigers were the No. 1 seed in the east, and are likely the best team the Lady Broncbusters have seen since their early February upset of then-No. 1 Hutchinson.
"I think it's going to have to be us rising to the occasion and really stepping up," GCCC head coach Alaura Sharp said. "Out of our eight players, they all need to come out and play well. We can't have someone totally no-show. It's gonna take all eight of us playing at a high level, playing extremely hard, playing with a lot of intensity."
Cowley allows 48 points per game, the second-best mark in the region, and is fourth in scoring at 69.2. The Tigers' 21.2 scoring margin is second in the region behind the Lady Dragons, and they shoot 34.3 percent as a team from behind the arc. Cowley's 214 3-pointers are second-most in the region, in just the fourth-most attempts.
"They don't just aggressively look for it," Sharp said. "They are very timely when they take their threes, they are very rhythm, which is why they shoot such a good percentage. They do have about four kids that have the strong capability to knock down multiple threes in a game. Obviously, defending the 3-point line will be really important."
Sophomore Montia Johnson, a 6-foot-1 post leads the Tigers with 12.2 points per game and 10.4 rebounds, shoots 50 percent from the field and 68 percent at the line.
Behind Johnson are a pair of 5-foot-7 guards, Emilie Gronas and Tonisha Walker, who average 10.8 and 10.6 points per game, respectively. Gronas shoots 37.9 percent from 3-point range, and Walker coverts 76.4 percent at the free-throw line, with the second-most attempts on the team.
Garden City has handled post players pretty well, but it's been guards that can attack the lane that have given the Busters trouble.
"They play eight kids, and four of them are really good players that need attention and need good defenders on them," Sharp said. "This will be the first time in a long time that there are five people on the floor that are capable of scoring, and stuff will be run for them to get open looks. So we have to have five people on the floor really ready to commit to the defensive end."
Cowley will look to press, and it plays a matchup zone on defense. The Busters have had struggles adjusting to zone looks at times, so coming out strong will be important to avoid falling into an early hole.
The Tigers won't bail the Busters out, either, as they average just 15 fouls per game, second-fewest in the region. They're also a strong rebounding team, so it will be strength-on-strength in that respect.
Hutchinson plays Butler at 1:30 in the other semifinal. The Dragons won both their games against the Grizzlies in the regular season.
While the first goal is to win the region, there's still a chance Garden City could earn one of four at-large bid to the NJCAA tournament. However, the best odds of seeing that scenario unfold would involve a loss to Hutchinson in the championship game — the No. 3 Dragons are 31-1 and likely a lock for a tourney bid either way. If Cowley or Butler were to win the region, Hutchinson would nab an at-large spot, and likely push Garden City out of the picture.
So, even with all those possibilities in play, the simplest route to extending the season remains this: win.
"Your best case scenario is, you've got to do everything you can to get to the championship game," Sharp said. "We can't look past Cowley at all, Cowley is a very, very good basketball team. The best Cowley team they've had in a while. I would say if you had to pick a scenario, you would want to meet Hutch in the finals."