Lady Cougars do it again
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. -- Back-to-Back Region IX champs.
Those are the words that will hold special memories for the Western Nebraska Community College women's basketball team after they captured the Region IX championship with a 69-67 win over Western Wyoming Community College Wednesday night in Rock Springs, Wyo.
This is the Cougars' 11th regional title. It was also the Cougars 13th straight win and pushed the Cougars to 30-4 on the season. More importantly, it sends WNCC to the national tournament March 17-22 in Salina, Kan.
"It feels really great to have the title of Region IX champs for the second year in a row," sophomore Ashley Stevens of Bridgeport said. "We really wanted to have a repeat and that is exactly what we did. Today we know we had to play our hardest because Western Wyoming is a really good team. They had a lot of sophomores on their team that knew how to handle pressure and they gave us a run at the end of the game."
WNCC trailed just once in the contest and had has much have a 19-point lead in the second half before Western Wyoming mounted a comeback. The Cougars, however, hit some clutch free throws and stopped a last second shot for the win.
Stevens said they kept fighting even though Western Wyoming was trying to make a comeback.
"It was very important that we started off the second half so well," she said. "If we wouldn't have we probably wouldn't have pulled it out at the end. Give them credit though, they were shooting the three ball well [at the end]."
WNCC dominated the first half. After both squads were tied at 5-5, WNCC went on a scoring tear behind a 3-pointer by Abi Lujan and later a 3-pointer by Angela VIgil to put WNCC up 19-11. WNCC pushed it to 15 points, 29-24 on four free throws by Laurin Rivera and led 38-27 at halftime.
WNCC exploded out of the gate in the second half behind eight points from Stevens to take a 51-32 lead. Western Wyoming came back hitting four straight 3-pointers and sliced the lead to two points, 68-67 with 37 seconds to play. Lile Havili then hit one of two free throws and then WNCC put on a big defensive effort to not force a good shot attempt to get the win.
Stevens said they clamped down on the defense in the lst 13 seconds.
"To talk about the defense at the end, Abi was guarding the girl with the ball and she kind of lost control of it," Stevens said. "Then we had good pressure and made them make bad passes. By that time they got a really bad shot off and the buzzer went off."
The win was even more exciting tor the team because they had to battle the sixth man, a loud student section.
"The fans were ridiculous," she said. "They were super loud. It was really loud that we couldn't hear each other."
WNCC shot 44 percent from the game, 47 percent in the first half. What kept the Mustangs in the game was free throw shooting. In the first half, WNCC was just 2 of 2, while Western Wyoming was 12 of 13. For the game, the Mustangs were 19 of 23 compared to 11 of 18 for WNCC>
WNCC also out-rebounded the Mustangs 40-34 and held a 24-11 halftime rebounding advantage. Abi Lujan led them on the boards with seven followed by Stevens with six.
The Cougars put three players in double figures. Stevens led the way with 16 points, followed by Rivera with 12, and Vigil with 11.
Stevens said the entire team played well in all four games of the tournament.
"We played pretty well all four games," she said. "We had a goal set and we worked hard to achieve that goal. As for the balanced scoring, it is always nice to know we have a whole team who can score. We have some key bench players that come in and contribute points along with the starters."
WNCC had three players make the all-tournament team in Stevens, Havili, and Shalisa Moffit. Stevens and Havili were also named to the South all-region team.
Other all-tournament team members include Eastern Wyoming's Brittany Cross, Northwest's Dana Bjorhus, Sheridan's Madison Froney and Sierra Toms, Otero's Bailey Haist, Western Wyoming's Whitney Mitchell, Emily Moore, and Erica Shenton, Casper's Kendyl Nunn, Northeastern Colorado's Meg Pritchard, Central Wyoming's Jolonna Sazue, and Dawson's Janniqua Thomas.
The south coach of the year honor went to Otero's Kyle Spencer while the north coach of the year went to Western Wyoming's Ken Swartz. The Shiela Worley sportsmanship award went to Dawson Community College.
WNCC (30-4) 38 31 -- 69
WWCC (26-8) 27 40 -- 67
Emily Moore 16, Shyanne Halalilo 16, Tiffany Trimble 1, Whitney Mitchell 18, Whitni Syrett 10, Alisa Peterson 6.
Allyson Vazques 2, Laurin Rivera 12, Shalisa Moffit 6, Lyndie Puckett 2, Abi Lujan 7, Angela Vigil 11, Liz Dogan 6, Ashley Stevens 16, Lile Havili 7.
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