Cougars ready for early morning game at nationals

The Western Nebraska Community College women's basketball team's quest for a national title begins Tuesday and for this year's squad they can't wait to get on the court.

WNCC won't have to wait long as they hit the court at 9 a.m. at the Salina Bicentennial Arena for the NJCAA Division I national basketball tournament against ASA College. WNCC will be making its 10th trip to the national tournament and first since 2008. ASA College, who started athletics in 2008, will be making its first trip to nationals.

The two teams are very similar in talent even though on paper the records don't show it. WNCC comes in with an official 20-14 record but are 33-1 if you take away the 13 forfeits. ASA College enters with a 24-3 record.

The players are excited to make the trip and want to keep showing everyone just how good this team is. Torrington's Mikayla Brower, who has started at guard the entire second semester, said the plan is for the team to play hard with hopes of winning several games at nationals.

"We are really excited for nationals especially after winning regionals and showing people what we can do after what we dealt with at the beginning of the season," she said. "We just go and compete and we sure are hoping to do well. That is the plan at least."

To accomplish that, however, the Cougars just need to worry about their game.

"We have to do all the little things right for us to be successful," Bridgeport's Ashley Stevens said. "We have to play good defense and that is what helped us to win the regional tournament. We have to box out and make sure we know where our man is at all times."

As much as anything, this team is not just satisfied with a regional title. After the Cougars beat Gillette 62-54 on March 7 for the regional championship, there wasn't a whole lot of celebrating by the team. Shalisa Moffit, freshman guard from Colorado Springs, Colo., said it felt good to win, especially after what the team went through first semester. Moffit said they easily could have quit but didn't.

"It was super exciting to win," she said. "Like coach said, after the whole thing with Jess happened, we could have quit and not play our best. But we stuck through it and it felt really good that we could win."

There are several factors to the team earning a berth in the national tournament from hard-nosed defensive play to precision 3-point shooting. But, more importantly, Moffit said it was the bond the team had that featured no one star, but different ones that stepped up on offensive and defense.

"We just need to do what we have been doing all season," Moffit said. "Our defense is the one big thing that wins games. We are intense and we work harder than any other team, so hopefully that will show at nationals and we will win."

The Cougars defense has been key all season. WNCC is giving up just 43.5 points a game while scoring 76.1. ASA isn't far behind, giving up just 53.9 points and scoring at a clip of 71.3.

The difference between two teams lies with 3-point shooting. WNCC is making 38 percent of their 3-point shots compared to the Avengers 28.3 percent.

Brower, who is leading the nation in 3-point shooting at 54.3 percent, said the Cougars' depth at shooting has been key.

"Having all the shooters that we have is key because if someone is guarded tightly, then it will open up someone else game to shot," Brower said. "If someone else is on, you always have another person to go to. it is nice knowing you have multiple people that could be on in a game."

Brower and Moffit, who are the team's leading 3-point shooters, said the team has worked hard to improve their shooting.

"It is just the extra time we put in the gym at night," Brower said. "We just come in and take it upon ourselves to shoot by ourselves and get that extra practice in."

Moffit added, "We are known for being the shooting team. Everybody can shoot including Ashley and Jessica. That is a big advantage that that the whole team can shoot."

WNCC will see stiff competition at nationals. ASA features three players above six –foot. The Avengers are led by 6-foot-1 Sashana Bucknor who is averaging a double-double of 11.7 rebounds and 12.8 points a game. Bucknor is also making 40 percent of her 3-point shots.

ASA also has four other players that are averaging near or over double figures. Tiffany Jones, a 6-3 center, is averaging 11.8 points a game followed by 5-6 Shaquita Smith at 11.3. They also have 5-6 Kelcey Castro averaging 8.9 points a game and 6-9 Jade Wharton at 8.7 points a game.

The Avengers have won their last 14 games, including dropping Monroe Community College 49-33 in the regional championship game. They then earned a spot at nationals with a 66-54 win over Harford in the district playoffs.

ASA only losses came first semester, where they lost to the Army junior varsity 55-52. They then fell on back-to-back nights on Dec. 28 and 29 to Darton College 77-63 and to Chattahoochee Technical 75-66.

The Cougars come in with the same type of depth, with five players averaging eight points or more. Gritt Ryder, the sophomore transfer from the University of Alaska Anchorage, leads the way averaging 13.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Stevens is right behind averaging 8.5 points and 7 rebounds a game.

The Cougars also have Morrill graduate Aratani averaging 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds, Brower is at eight points a game, and Moffit at 8.3 points. Laurin Rivera and Kelsey Doddridge are also capable of popping in double-figure scores on any night, averaging 6.3 points a game.

If the Cougars win their first game, they will face No. 3 seed Hutchinson Community College on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Stevens thinks they are ready to play.

"I think we are ready to go and play," she said. "We hope to represent Scottsbluff well and we want to play well so we can show the nation what our little college is like."



Team comparison

WNCC Stat ASA

20-14 Record 24-3

14th Seed 19th

76.1 Pts For 71.3

43.5 Pts Ag. 53.9

46.1 FG% 37.4

38.0 3FG% 28.3

66.2 Ft% 62.5

40.1 Reb. 52.2

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