Jaleesa Avery poured in 24 points and the 25th-ranked Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team rolled to their ninth straight win by topping Laramie County Community College 86-32 in a Region IX South sub-region contest Tuesday evening at Cougar Palace.
The win was the Cougars 21st of the season but, more importantly, moves WNCC to 10-1 in the South sub-region. WNCC holds a 2-game lead over Lamar. WNCC travels to Lamar on Friday and a win against the Lopes will wrap up the No. 1 seed and the host of the Region IX tournament in March.
WNCC’s win Tuesday was dominating as they used big runs in each of the quarters for the 54-point win while getting a good team win.
Kellie Gaston, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, said the team had a slow start but picked it up after that.
“I think we were a little sluggish at first, but we picked up the intensity in the second for sure,” Gaston said. “Coach gave us a talk in the locker room and set a goal for us. Our goal was to change our intensity because in the first half we were a little sluggish. I think we did a really good job of picking up the intensity level in the second half.”
A major reason for the big win was the balanced scoring especially since they were playing without two key players. Bree Paulson didn’t suit up because of an injury and the team lost Anastacia Johnson to an injury in the first minute of the game after Johnson scored the opening bucket.
“Losing Bree and Anastacia was huge for us because they are a huge part of our team,” Gaston said. “But I am proud of our other teammates who were able to step up and try to fill in their shoes.”
Everybody did step up in the contest, too. Three players finished in double figures and another four players finished with seven or more points.
Avery led all scorers with 24 points, including going 11 of 13 from the field while pulling down five rebounds.
Zeynep Canbaz finished with 13 points, including connecting on two 3-pointers, pulling down four rebounds, and collecting five steals. Gaston was the third player in double figures.
WNCC also got a good contribution off the bench, scoring 31 points to LCCC’s eight bench points. Those players finishing with eight points each were Melisa Kadic, Jocelyn Montecinos, and Giovanna Silva. Sladjana Rakovic finished with seven points. Kadic and Silva were starters, while Rakovic and Montecinos came off the bench.
Shooting and defense were also key ingredients of the Cougars’ big win. WNCC shot 54 percent from the field while holding LCCC to just 20 percent. WNCC connected on three treys while shutting out the Golden Eagles.
WNCC’s defense generated 18 steals while dishing off 19 assists. Kristin Gaston and Silva led the way with four assists each.
WNCC led 22-7 after one period after Canbaz nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Cougars started the second quarter on a 14-2 run to lead 36-9 and led 43-16 at the half.
Any hope of a comeback by LCCC was quickly extinguished in the second half. WNCC opened the third on a 17-0 run to lead 60-16 behind five points from Canbaz and nine points from Avery.
WNCC’s defensive, even with the starters on the bench stayed strong as LCCC finally scored two points on two free throws with 3:02 to play in the third. WNCC went on to lead 68-26 after three and never looked back.
Gaston said while this was a big game, Friday’s game against Lamar will be huge. She added the team will be ready.
“I know we are going to practice super hard between now and Friday,” she said. “I think we lost last time [to Lamar] because our focus wasn’t there. But I really feel we all have a mentality to beat them this time.”
WNCC is playing well right now, too. WNCC has scored 70 or more points in their last four games. Since that loss, Gaston said this team is playing much better.
“We have improved so much [since the loss],” she said. “Plus Rakovic is back. She didn’t play last game against Lamar and she adds a huge contribution to our team.”
LCCC (8-15) 7 9 10 6 – 32
WNCC (21-4) 22 21 25 18 – 86
Allee Williamson 2, Aubrey Goodrich 2, Randi Elisson 2, Morgan Dana 2, Madison Hamm 9, Caylin Arnold 15.
Melisa Kadic 8, Sladjana Rakovic 7, Jaleesa Avery 24, Sophie Agorakis 2, Olivia Wiberg 2, Kellie Gaston 10, Zeynep Canbaz 13, Anastacia Johnson 2, Deniz Dalkiran 2, Jocelyn Montecinos 8, Giovanna Silva 8.