By BRETT MARSHALL
With less than 24 hours between Friday night's victories over Great Bend at home and then a five-hour plus bus trip to Topeka to take on the Topeka West Chargers Saturday night, both Jacy Holloway and David Upton, respective boys and girls coaches at Garden City High School, were unsure how their teams would respond.
The long trip to and back from the Capital City proved worthwhile for the Buffaloes' basketball teams as the teams returned with a pair of 11-point triumphs, the girls winning 54-43 and the boys coming out on top, 53-42.
Saturday's victory improved the Lady Buffs' season mark to 7-1, which following Friday's 51-34 win over Great Bend, has now established the best start in school history. The 1987 team, which finished 15-7, opened that season with a 5-1 record. For the boys, the win pushed the Buffs' overall record to 6-2, also one of the best starts in recent years.
The teams have little rest once again as they hit the road on Tuesday for Western Athletic Conference contests at Liberal, the girls tipping off at 6 p.m. and the boys game to follow at approximately 7:45 p.m. at the LHS Gymnasium.
For the second straight night, the Lady Buffs were sluggish in the early going and didn't put the game away until the fourth quarter with a stifling defensive effort.
"You could certainly got it bus lag," Upton said said of the lengthy trip to eastern Kansas. "We didn't play with a lot of energy, but the girls did what they had to do and we were able to come away with a win."
Clinging to a 39-37 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Buffs held the Lady Chargers without a point for the first 4:35 of the final period, going on a 9-0 run to take a 48-37 lead and never led by less than nine point the rest of the way.
Garden got points from Johna McClelland, Jaymie Bernbeck, Taryn Tempel, Tonia McKee and Jacksenie Tornero during the final quarter in which they finished with a 15-6 scoring advantage over West (2-5).
The Lady Buffs held a 12-9 first quarter lead as Tempel hit a pair of 3-point baskets en route to a 13-point output. She was joined at the number by McKee, who played relentness defense in helping force 24 West turnovers. Meanwhile, the Buffs committed just four miscues, their lowest total of the season, including none in the first half.
"They set back in a zone and that has something to do with the low turnovers," Upton said. "It sets the pace of the game. We didn't do everything as well as we'd like, but this group digs down and plays good defense and that's what's going to get you through when the offense is not working as well."
The Lady Buffs built their biggest first-half lead at 24-16, before West went on a 6-2 spurt near the end of the second quarter to narrow the score to 26-22 at intermission. West then started the third on a 7-0 run to own a 29-26 lead, and still led 34-32 and 36-35 late in the period. A basket by McKee late provided the Lady Buffs with that 39-37 edge heading to the final quarter.
In addition to McKee and Tempel's 13 points, Tornero added nine, including a perfect 7-of-7 at the free throw line. Kennedy Brunson provided six key points off the bench, all in the second quarter. The Lady Buffs managed just 34.6 percent field goal shooting (18-of-52) while West was a solid 14-of-30 (46.6 percent). The Lady Buffs were able to limit 6-2 Tulsa signee Autura Campbell to just 10 points.
"I thought our inside players did a good job of staying between her and the basket and forcing her to shoot from the outside," Upton said of the team's effort on Campbell.
Upton was pleased with getting contributions from many different players in many different ways — McKee on defense and steals, Tornero at the free throw line, McClelland, Bernbeck on interior defense.
"We just had people step in there and do the things that gets you wins," Upton said. "They've got a lot to hang their hat on right now. We can get better, but I like the fight that this group has."
For Holloway and the Buffs, one of the big questions to be answered in addition to how the team would respond to the long drive was how they would perform without the presence of leading scorer, 6-4 forward Austin Terpstra, who suffered an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter of Friday's win over Great Bend.
Terpstra's status for the game on Tuesday at Liberal is still undetermined.
The Buffs put together a solid first-half performance, especially on the defensive end of the court, outscoring the Chargers 13-8 and 12-7 in the first two quarters to go in ahead by 10, 25-15, at halftime.
"We found a stretch in there where we got some good stops and some easy baskets," Holloway said of that first-half effort. "We weren't exactly doing everything we wanted early, and we needed a little firing up. It was just a long, long day and I think it showed."
The biggest lead in that stretch came at 22-8, when the Buffs opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run. West, however, refused to go away as the Chargers then finished the period on a 7-3 run.
In the third quarter, the teams seemed to be on a roller-coaster, as the Chargers cut the lead to five, 27-22 before falling behind again by a dozen, 34-22, midway through the period. West then took advantage of a nearly four minute drought by the Buffs, scoring seven unanswered points to cut the lead to 34-29 before Tristan Nanninga cashed a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to make it 36-29 heading to the final eight minutes.
While the Buffs' lead never went below five, the last at 45-40 with 2:25 remaining, they couldn't put the Chargers away until the closing minute, when Nanninga made 5-of-6 charities. For the game, Garden City made 20-of-31 free throws. The Buffs made 15-of-37 field goals for 40.5 percent and limited West to 12-of-48 (25 percent).
It was a big 3-pointer by Hunter Delgado that provided the Buffs a nine-point lead with just under four minutes left at 45-36.
"I think all of us felt that was the big play of the game," Holloway said. "We were struggling a little, and they were making a run at us."
Bo Banner, starting in place of Terpstra, paced the Buffs with 15 points while Nanninga and Delgado added 10 points each. The Buffs got 12 key points off the bench from Evan Riggs (5), Caleb Tramp (4) and Akil Love (3).
"Defensively, I think we've been pretty consistent and that's what has carried us so far," Holloway said. "We have to continue that if we want to be successful."
Bottom line for Holloway, though, is that his team is off to a 6-2 start and winning is building confidence.
"It's certainly not what we've been used to, and it's something new," Holloway said. "It's something for us to build upon, and it's a nice start to the second semester. I think the kids are gaining confidence each time out."
Holloway said that despite fouling out, senior Emilio Parr did a good job defensively up front against the Chargers. Banner, he said, is getting better as he continues to round into shape after a football injury kept him out at the start of the season.
Holloway also praised Riggs, who came off the bench to score five points, but just as important, was the floor leader and defensive stalwart while Denton Keller was on the bench with foul problems.
"Each one of those guys did something that helped us get the win," Holloway said of his players. "That's what they're starting to understand."