Blues win MIAA, will host region

Say Cheese The Lady Blues pose together after winning the MIAA conference tournament. Junior guard Ebonie Williams was the MVP.

Luke Warnken / Washburn Review

The Washburn Lady Blues took care of business in historic Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., this past weekend. The No. 1 seeded Blues, favorites to win the tournament, didn’t disappoint as they brought home another trophy after winning the MIAA conference tournament.

“Our kids have just bought into our philosophy,” said Washburn women’s head basketball coach Ron McHenry. “They are just great competitors.”

Washburn got matched against a tough, sharp shooting No. 8 seeded Missouri Western team in the first round of the tournament. Missouri Western senior forward Jessica Koch started off on fire for the Griffons scoring 11 of MWSU’s first 18 points to give MWSU an early 18-7 lead. Koch was a deadly assassin from beyond the arc to start the game off hitting her first three three-point attempts. Senior guard Stevi Schultz had the luxury of guarding Koch for a majority of the game.

“When she gets going on her three’s she is hard to stop,” said Schultz. “Once she gets confident she’ll pull up from anywhere.”

Washburn women’s head coach Ron McHenry game planned for the sharp shooting Koch.

“Koch has been one of the best players in the league,” said McHenry. “We gave up 25 points to her but I still feel we managed to defend her well.”

Both teams combined for 16 three’s in the first period. Washburn was able to rally from 11 points down as they went onto a 23-0 run fueled by three pointing shooting by Washburn guards. Koch ended the six minute drought with a free throw but Washburn retained a 43-34 lead going into halftime. Koch scored 18 points in the first half.

“It was a tough first round draw,” said McHenry. I was a little nervous and I definitely didn’t want to overlook this game.”

Washburn came out the second half hot as the senior trio of Schultz, Ebonie Williams, and Cassie Lombardino all scored to push the lead to 57-41 with 15 minutes left to go in the game. Western Missouri was able to stay close for a majority of the second half but was unable to capitalize against the taller Lady Blues.

“They are such a good transition offensive team,” said McHenry. “We were able to get back and take away their transition offense.”

The Blues held the Griffons to zero fast break points and cracked down on Missouri Western’s three point shooting in the second half as the Griffons went 1-5 from downtown in the second half.  WMSU was able to cut the lead to eight with 10:34 left to go in the game off of a Kallie Schoonover jumper and Charlonda Bozeman layup.

Williams answered with a layup of her own. Williams finished the game with 18 points on 6-17 shooting. Cassie Lombardino scored three straight buckets for the Blues to push the lead back to 13. The Bonner Springs product pulled down ten boards while scoring a team high 19 points.

“There were times we didn’t play well,” said McHenry. “It was an opening game against a good Western Missouri team and I thought we played pretty good overall.”

After the 80-63 win, the Blues advanced to face the No. 4 seeded Central Missouri Jennies.

The Jennies defeated the Lady Blues by one at home, Washburn’s only second loss in conference play. Central Missouri came close to pulling off the upset again as senior forward Nicole Caddell missed a contested layup. CMSU rebounded the ball and a wide open Taylor Hanson saw her three-point attempt bounce off the rim as time expired.

“I’m not sure that I watched it,” said McHenry. “We were fortunate that it didn’t fall.”

Washburn again had to rally down early in the first half after surrendering an 11-2 run to the Jennies. The Blues were able to answer time and again as there were six ties and ten lead changes in the first half alone. Senior guard Ebonie Williams hit a big three to give Washburn a 36-34 lead going into the locker room.

“The first half they really beat us on the boards,” said McHenry. “Talent wise I feel they are as talented as any team out there.”

Washburn was without starting forward and leading rebound Sierra Moeller who suffered an injury in their previous game.

“We’re definitely missing her on the boards,” said junior forward Dana Elliot.

Elliot came up big knocking down a trey with 1:37 left in the game to give Washburn a four-point lead.

“I just shot it and it just happened to go in,” said Elliot.

Elliot stepped in and started for the injured Moeller and produced for the Lady Blues. She finished with seven points and seven rebounds. Lombardino had another big game scoring 19 and giving the Jennie big women fits by the basket.

“I figure I might as well take it to them early,” said Lombardino.

Despite balanced scoring from Central Missouri’s big three Washburn walked away with the 64-62 hard earned win.

“Those are tough match ups with really good basketball players said,” said McHenry. “Pretty good knock down drag out game.”

Against Emporia State in the MIAA Championship, Washburn trailed for most of the first half until Schultz hit a three-pointer to give the Lady Blues a 19-16 lead. The Blues were able to tack on more late in the first half shooting 48 percent from the field and winning the board battle 19-11. Washburn went to work down low, scoring 16 points in the paint to give them a 33-22 halftime lead over the Hornets.

“We got off to a little bit of a slow start,” said McHenry. “But we finally hit a couple of big shots.”

Washburn held the Hornets to only 27 percent in the first half but ESU was able to make a remarkable second half comeback. ESU shot 52 percent in the second half outscoring Washburn by two points in the second half. But the Blues managed to take advantage of the charity stripe, stroking 12 of 15 from the line and hitting the final 9 of 10 free throws in the late minutes of the game.

MIAA player of the year Ebonie Williams hit five of her nine free throw makes in the final minutes of the game. Williams had a game high 24 points on 6-for-16 shooting as she lead the Blues to a 68-59 win over the Hornets. Williams garnished the Most Outstanding Player award and fellow seniors Schultz and Lombardino also made all-tournament team as Washburn claimed its sixth MIAA tournament title.

On Sunday night, the Lady Blues were selected as the No. 1 seed in the Division II South Central Region of the NCAA tournament. They play West Texas A&M March 9 at 6 p.m. in Lee Arena.