The Western Nebraska Community College womenâ€™s basketball team are focused on what they have been working all season on, doing well at the national tournament. That focus has been brought to the forefront as they get ready to embark at the NJCAA National Tournament beginning Monday in Lubbock, Texas.
The Cougars, 28-4 and b y virtue of winning the programâ€™s 13th Region IX title, will open play Monday at 5 p.m. when they face Jones County Junior College, 28-1, in the first round at Lubbock, Texas.
Bree Paulson, one of three sophomores on the womenâ€™s team, said the team is anxious to get going at nationals that feature the 24 best teams in the nation.
â€śWe are excited to compete against teams that are not in our region,â€ť she said. â€śAt the national tournament every team is good and coming to compete, so we are anxious to see how we will do against that. If everyone on our team brings their 100 percent effort, I think we will be alright.â€ť
Paulson said the team is excited for the trip and to continue this memorable season.
â€śTraveling to Texas on Friday I think was a good idea,â€ť she said â€śWe are able to get our mental state in a complete basketball mode which is super important for the tournament. My team and I are super excited to represent WNCC at a national level and hopefully make some noise.â€ť
The Cougar women went through a 30-minute shoot-around at Lubbock Christian University on Saturday, the site of the national tournament, and will practice at Texas Tech University on Sunday.
WNCC interim coach Chad Gibney feels the team is ready to go.
â€śThe team is very excited to have an opportunity to represent Western Nebraska at the national tournament,â€ť he said. â€śWe are ready to go down and compete with the best teams in the country.â€ť
Gibney said the focus is just playing one more day and that is what they did at the Region IX tournament.
â€śWe just talk about playing our best basketball,â€ť Gibney said. â€śIf we play our best and do what we need to do, we can be content with the result.Â Going back to the region tournament, our goal has been to simply play one more day together.Â Just give us one more opportunity to compete for one another.Â Thatâ€™s what we will be trying to do during this tournament.â€ť
However, WNCCâ€™s first round opponent wonâ€™t be easy. Jones County enter with the No. 13 seed and sports a 28-1 record. The Bobcats have a 23-game winning streak and last lost to Copiah Linoln on December 5 79-68.
â€śJones is playing very good basketball as they have won 23 games in a row,â€ť Gibney said. â€śThey are a very athletic group of girls that excel in transition.Â We will need to keep them in their half court offense and contain them on the glass.â€ť
Jones County is a team with plenty of athleticism. They are led by 5-foot-8 freshman guard Alexis Tolefree leads the Bobcats in scoring at 19.1 points a game and dishes off 2.7 assists. She has made 73 3-pointers this season.
Jones County also has four other players averaging double digits. Freshman forward Nique Cherry is averaging a double-double of 13.2 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard Tatyana Lofton averages 11.9 points and four rebounds. Freshman guard K.K. Tassin is scoring 10.8 points a game followed by sophomore forward Myyahh West at 10.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.Â Â Â The big key in the contest should be defense. Jones County and WNCC feature two different style of games. Jones is averaging 83.1 points a game and allows their opponents just 52.8 points a game.
WNCC also can score points, averaging 73.3 points a game. But the Cougarsâ€™ bread and butter is defense where they are allowing 55.6 points a game and put together a couple of outstanding defensive stands at regionals.
In a 74-70 overtime win against Northwest College, the Cougars came back from a fourth-quarter deficit and held Northwest down to get the overtime win. The Gillette semifinal win saw WNCC hold the Pronghorns to just six first quarter points and actually held Gillette scoreless for 9 minutes, 45 seconds in the first quarter.
The Region IX championship 53-51 win over Eastern Wyoming College was another fourth-quarter defensive stand where WNCC held the Lancers to just two points in the final five minutes to get the 53-51 win.
Plus, it was the defense that got the winning bucket as Giovanna Silva got a deflection on defense and passed the ball to a streaking Anastacia Johnson for the go-ahead bucket. The Cougars then played smothering defense in the final 20 seconds to preserve the win.
TheÂ Cougars have four players that averaged 10 or more points as well. The Cougars are led by University of Wyoming recruit Sladjana Rakovic, who leads the team at 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Jaleesa Avery has averaged 12.5 points while Paulson averaged 10.2 points a game. Zeynep Canbaz is averaging 10 points a game with Melisa Kadic right behind averaging 8.1 points.
WNCCâ€™s focus, however, is on the first game. The coaches have been watching film on Jones County and has an idea of what their strengths but the focus is on how they do.
â€śWe also talk about going out and competing on every possession, being laser sharp in our focus and execution, and staying positive throughout the runs of a game.Â If we do those three things, keep Jones out of transition, and simply make our open looks, we will be in a good position.
Gibney said the way this team fights shows their toughness.
â€śIt shows the toughness and the resiliency of this group. They arenâ€™t afraid of the moment,â€ť he said. â€śI never let doubt enter my mind. As the game is close down the stretch, I am just trying to find ways to put our girls in an advantageous position.â€ť
WNCC has quietly out together a nice season, too. The Cougars are on a 16-game win streak including a number of fourth-quarter wins. The last time the Cougars lost was back on Jan. 12 when they fell to Lamar Community College on a terrible shooting night.
While both teams are on double digit win streaks, the winner advance to the next round to face Hutchinson Community College, who received a first-round bye on Wednesday at noon. The game can be watched at www.njcaatv.com
First Round Pairings
Game 1 â€“ San Jacinto-North vs. Harford, 9 a.m.
Game 2 â€“ South Plains vs. Monroe, 11 a.m.
Game 3 â€“ South Georgia State vs. Motlow, 1 p.m.
Game 4 â€“ Sheldon State vs. North Dakota SCS, 3 p.m.
Game 5 â€“ WNCC vs. Jones County, 5 p.m.
Game 6 â€“ Wabash Valley vs. Cochise, 7 p.m.
Game 7 â€“ Walters State vs. Tyler JC, 9 a.m.
Game 8 â€“ Northeast Oklahoma A&M vs. Iowa Western, 11 a.m.
Second Round Pairings
Game 9 â€“ Gulf Coast vs. Game 1 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 10 â€“ Seward County vs. Game 2 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 11 â€“ Odessa vs. Game 3 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 12 â€“ Tallahassee vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 13 â€“ Hutchinson vs. Game 5 winner, noon
Game 14 â€“ Salt Lake vs. Game 6 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 15 â€“ Chipola vs. Game 7 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 16 â€“ Trinity Valley vs. Game 8 winner, 7 p.m.
Tournament continues through Saturday