Lady Busters start KJCCC play vs. familiar foe
By ADAM HOLT
A program-best 14-0 start and a No. 11 ranking in the national poll made for a successful first half to the season for the Garden City Community College women's basketball team.
But when Jayhawk Conference play begins Saturday, with a 5 p.m. home game against Butler, the Lady Broncbusters will see how good they really are.
"This is where it actually counts," sophomore forward Tamara Jones said. "Last semester counted, but this is (conference) season, this is where we need to make sure we win."
Last season, GCCC started out a modest 8-6, but went 11-5 in Jayhawk West play to earn a No. 2 seed in the Region VI tournament. This time around, expectations are higher out of the gate.
"We really have to focus on us and know that every team is going to be ready to play, and we will get their best shot," GCCC head coach Alaura Sharp said.
The KJCCC slate begins with three games in five days for the Busters, including a trip east to face the No. 2-ranked Hutchinson Lady Dragons on Monday, followed by a home game at the Perryman Athletic Complex against Barton on Wednesday. GCCC's first three opponents are a combined 36-5.
But first up is 12-2 Butler, led by sophomore Jamillah Bonner, who's averaging 18.9 points per game. The Grizzlies are athletic and will pressure a lot on defense, an intensity Sharp said the Busters need to equal.
"The effort and energy they play with, we've got to match it," she said. "And we've been somewhat of a roller coaster with that. We've shown games where we've come out and we've played with that same passion. And we've shown times that we've came out and really hadn't had a lot of interest."
Garden City's at least familiar with Bonner, as the Busters and Grizzlies played three times last season, with GCCC winning all three. Bonner had 22, 20 and 20 points in the three matchups, but Sharp said Garden City did a better job the third time around against Butler. The first matchup needed a Breanna Gottschalk 3-pointer to force overtime, an eventual 57-53 win on the road. At home, GCCC squeaked out a 49-48 win thanks to some missed free throws by Bonner late in the game. Finally, the Busters got a comfortable 73-57 win over the Grizzlies in the Region VI quarterfinals.
The recent familiarity with Butler, as well as the success found in the playoff game, has Garden City feeling prepared.
"... Their style of defense, you've got to try to attack them in the middle third of the floor," Sharp said. "We were able to get some high-lows. Carly Schmale, I remember stepping up, knocking some mid-range shots. We actually yesterday, watched the second half of that game, just to try to show them this is how they played against us, this is very likely how they'll play this year against us."
While Garden City has a veteran-laden team, a number of those sophomores transferred in from other schools. Jones and Deni Jacobs got firsthand experience with the Jayhawk Conference as freshmen last season, and Nicole Young and Brittany Maxwell also contributed during last year's run. Point guard Mikell Chinn watched from the sideline, as she was out with a torn ACL.
"We really do rely hard on Deni and Tamara because of that experience," Sharp said. "They've been there. Nicole Young, too. She played major minutes for us last year. Mikell was right there every step of the way. She's familiar — she maybe even learned more than anybody else, having to sit on the sideline. We do have some experience, maybe as much as any team in the league."
Jones' advice for her newer teammates was simple.
"Telling them just to play their hardest and make sure they give it their all, because the other players, they're not going to go easy on us," she said. "Because they know how good we're doing."
Sharp said she believes the first game of conference play sets the tone for the rest of the year. Regardless of Saturday's result, Garden City will have to regroup for 14-0 Hutchinson on Monday. And effort, which has sometimes been the Busters' weakness, will be crucial as they work their way through the gauntlet that is KJCCC play.
"The biggest change between conference play and non-conference play is the good teams who are ready and prepared, and well-coached for you," Sharp said. "And they're familiar with your program and familiar with your style of play. And those come every Wednesday and every Saturday, and even more than that. We cannot be a roller coaster. We've got to get ourselves ready to play, and take this thing one at a time."