By BRETT MARSHALL
GREAT BEND — There was no questioning the importance of Friday night's Western Athletic Conference showdown between the Garden City Lady Buffaloes and the Great Bend Lady Panthers.
Holding a one-game lead over the Lady Buffs, the Lady Panthers were looking to put a lock on the WAC race, while coach David Upton was looking to steal a road win and make it a two-team race down the stretch of the regular season.
Upton said prior to the game that he was going to force Great Bend to beat the Lady Buffs from the outside, sinking back into a 2-3 zone in hopes of keeping 5-foot-10 Morgan Harwood in check down low.
The strategy never materialized, and the Lady Panthers rolled to a 69-50 triumph over the Lady Buffs to put a hammerlock on the WAC title with only three games left and up by two games.
What happened in a buzz-saw first quarter to the Lady Buffs even had Upton shaking his head afterward.
Five different Lady Panthers knocked down a trey in exploding to a 26-12 lead after the first quarter. That paved the way for a 40-20 halftime bulge that grew to as many as 22 points.
A mild rally in the early fourth brought Garden City to within 13, 60-47, with 4:10 left, but there wasn't enough in the rally tank for the Buffs to sustain it to the end.
After two narrow wins against the Lady Buffs earlier in the season, 52-46 in December at the Hays City Shootout, and 48-42 in January at The Garden, the Lady Panthers ended any suspense of this outcome early.
And Upton took full responsibility for what transpired in those fateful first eight minutes.
"This one's on me," Upton said afterward. "The girls did what we asked them to do. We played the percentages and it bit us on the backside. Great Bend did what they had to do."
But the early moments of the game gave no indication of what was to transpire.
With senior Tonnia McKee keeping up with the Lady Panthers, Garden City found itself leading 12-10 with 3:14 remaining in the first. Then, the bombs began landing.
First, it was Kylee Spree, followed by Kaylie Doll, Kelsie Doll, a two-pointer by Harwood and another long-range arrow by Lauren Welch concluded a 14-0 run that for all practical purposes put the game out of reach.
The Lady Buffs never recovered, but did manage to fight to the end, something that was not lost on Upton.
"The kids did a good job of clawing back, but we couldn't finish," Upton said.
Jaymie Bernbeck had 14 points to pace the Lady Buffs, and McKee, with perhaps her best offensive game, followed with 12 points. Harwood finished with a game-high 17 points, while Taryn Stueder was next with 10.
Great Bend ended the game with eight 3-pointers, going 8 for 19 from behind the arc. Garden was just 1 of 6 from three-point range. Great Bend won the rebounding battle 32-28, with Harwood grabbing seven. Breece Dreiling, Bernbeck and Taryn Tempel each had six boards for the Buffs. Great Bend had 16 turnovers to 15 for Garden City.
The Lady Buffs are now 10-6 overall and 3-2 in the WAC. Great Bend is 14-2 and 5-0.
Garden turns right around and heads to nearby Holcomb tonight for a big in-county rivalry game with the Longhorns. Game time is 6:30 p.m. for the girls. Great Bend hits the road for a makeup game at Scott City.
Game note: Lost in the game itself was Taryn Tempel's basket with 1:44 left in the third quarter that made her the school's all-time leading scorer with 944 points, eclipsing the 943 set by Deann Craft.
Garden City 12 8 19 11 -- 50
Great Bend 26 14 15 14 -- 69
Garden City (10-6, 3-2) — Padilla 0-0 0-0 0, Dart 1-2 1-2 3, Tornero 2-10 0-1 4, Brunson 0-0 0-0 0, Tempel 1-4 2-4 4, McKee 4-7 3-4 12, Dreiling 2-4 1-2 5, Bernbeck 6-16 2-3 14, Carrillo 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 19-47 9-16 50.
Great Bend (14-2, 5-0) — Welch 2-3 2-4 7, Hildebrand 0-4 2-2 2, Kel. Doll 1-3 3-4 6, Spray 1-4 1-2 4, R. Unruh 1-3 2-4 5, Kay. Doll 1-3 4-4 7, Mauler 2-3 3-6 9, Stueder 3-7 3-4 10, Harwood 8-11 1-4 17, M. Unruh 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 20-44 21-34 69.
3-point goals--Garden City 1-6 (Tornero 0-3, McKee 1-3, Bernbeck 0-1), Great Bend 8-19 (Welch 1-1, Hildebrand 0-3, Kel. Doll 1-2, Spray 1-4, R. Unruh 1-2, Kay. Doll 1-2, Mauler 2-2, Stueder 1-3). Rebounds--Garden City 28 (Tempel 6, Bernbeck 6, Dreiling 6), Great Bend 32 (Harwood 7). Turnovers--Garden City 15, Great Bend 16. Fouls--Garden City 20, Great Bend 16. Fouled out--none.