Broncbusters battle No. 17 Hutchinson, 56-52

GCCC Sports Information Services
Garden City Community College's Jill Stephens drives the lane between Hutchinson's Nafatoumata Haidara, left, and Kayhla Booker for a basket Saturday at Perryman Athletic Complex.

Being close is not good enough for veteran-coach Antwain Scales. And on Saturday, the upset was there for the taking at home in front of a lively crowd. But great teams find a way in the end, and a National Championship contender survived a major scare on the road.

Nafatoumata Haidara tallied 16 points and 14 rebounds, Ishante Suttington chipped in 15 points and seven boards, and the 17th-ranked Blue Dragons held on to beat Garden City Community College 56-52 at Conestoga Arena.

"We lost this game on the glass," Scales said. "They had way too many second-chance opportunities."

Hutchinson pulled down 11 offensive rebounds and finished plus-14 on the glass, scoring 12 points on second-chance buckets.

"You just can't give teams like that more looks," Scales explained. "It just can't happen."

The loss squelched some of the momentum the Broncbusters built off Wednesday's upset of No. 25 Seward, their first win in Liberal in five years. It was also their fifth loss in their last six games. Meantime Hutchinson won their sixth straight game, holding firm position of first place in the Jayhawk West with a 9-2 conference mark.

"I know we didn't finish it, but these last two games showed that we can play with anyone in the country," Scales said. "We just have to finish games."

Garden City may have lost this one, but they went toe-to-toe with a team that Scales referred to as one of the 'Blue Bloods' of the Jayhawk Conference.

After falling behind 9-2 in the first five minutes, the Broncbusters battled back. Elisabeth Matas-Martin drained a 3, Kealani Neves hit one of her season-best five triples; then drove around two defenders for a left-handed layup, and Taylor Lawhorne completed a three-point play, capping off a 10-2 run that had Garden City up 16-14 after one. And the defense was superb, limiting the high-powered Blue Dragons to just one field goal over the final three minutes of the opening stanza.

"Lani (Neves) got back in the gym this past week and really rededicated herself," Scales explained. "She got on the gun and was trying to get better every single day."

And that extra work definitely paid off on Saturday when she halted a 6-0 Hutchinson run in the second with back-to-back 3-pointers that put the Broncbusters up one, 25-24. But after Donetria McGee's layup gave Garden City a 29-28 edge, Lojong Gore got inside for an easy layup, and Hutchinson was up 30-29 after two quarters.   

"I really like our fight in this game," Scales mentioned. "I'm really proud of that."

In years past, maybe the Broncbusters would have folded when Hutchinson hit them with a quick 7-0 burst in the third to build a 35-29 advantage. But Garden City stayed the course. Lawhorne swished a 3 from the wing, and Jill Stephens, who was fantastic in the second half on Wednesday night at Seward, finished off a three-point play to pull the Broncbusters within two, 40-38 going to the fourth.

"We put ourselves in a position to win this game," Scales said.

And when Lawhorne hit an uncontested triple from the wing midway through the final period, Garden City had a 46-45 lead. But it didn't last long at all. Haidara followed with a shot in the paint, Kate Ogle buried a long ball from the right corner, Suttington cashed in two free throws, and Hutchinson never trailed again.

But the chances were there down the stretch, Garden City just didn't capitalize.

Down three with 2:10 to play, Neves misfired a game-tying triple. The next time down the floor, Brittney Mapang was called for a very questionable offensive foul.

"I didn't agree with that call at all," Scales said. "It didn't really make much sense."

After Ogle split a pair of free throws to put Hutchinson up four, Matas-Martin rimmed out a jumper from the right end line for Garden City. Then, on the Blue Dragons' ensuing possession, Haidara grabbed Suttington's missed 16-footer and laid it back in, a crushing blow with 20 seconds remaining.

"That offensive rebound was costly," Scales mentioned. "We have to grab that ball in that situation. And that's why we lost the game."

Scales' defensive strategy was spot on for the second straight contest, holding another really good 3-point shooting team to just 2-of-12 from downtown. Hutchinson also missed 10 free throws (14-of-24). But the rebounding edge coupled with the Broncbusters going 8-of-29 from the floor (28 percent) in the second half, was the final kiss of death.

Neves poured in a season-high 20 points for Garden City, which lost to Hutchinson at home for the ninth straight time. Stephens added nine off the bench, and Lawhorne tallied nine points and four blocks in 18 minutes.

HUTCHINSON  13; 17; 10; 16; - 56

GARDEN CITY  16; 13; 9; 14; - 52

Garden City's next action will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday when they host Colby.