By Mike Pilosof
Great Bend, KS- If the Broncbusters ever get tired of playing at home, there is a place that welcomes them with open arms.
It's a place they've dominated in recent years.
Shakendra Tilley scored 15 points in just 19 minutes, the Broncbusters forced 18 turnovers, and Garden City toppled Barton County 70-60 at the Kirkman Center. It was the Broncbusters fourth win in their last five games played in Great Bend. It also snapped a two-game skid.
"I thought our energy was really good," Head Coach Charinee Mitchell said afterwards. "It wasn't perfect by any stretch, but we figured out ways to stay aggressive."
Garden City (11-8, 8-7) won the game despite shooting 39 percent from the floor. How did they do it? With defense, something Mitchell has been preaching all season.
"We made Barton County work," Mitchell explained. "When you make your opponent work, usually good things happen."
The Broncbusters had 14 steals, their second most in a game this season. In the first quarter, they flustered Barton County (12-7, 9-6) into seven, uncharacteristic mistakes, turning the tide as Garden City built a five-point edge going into the second. And even when the Cougars made a push (the score was tied four times in the first half), the Broncbusters always appeared to be in control.
"It all goes back to practice on Friday," Mitchell said. "I pushed this team to their limit."
Whatever the method employed by the fiery, first-year coach, it paid major dividends on Saturday night.
Kala Jones hit a turnaround jumper, and Talia Roberts drilled a corner 3 to give the Broncbusters their largest lead of the first half, 33-24 with 4:22 to go in the second. But Barton County responded with a quick 9-0 spurt to tie it, thanks to former Meade star Jaylin Stapelton, who knocked down two free throws and splashed home a long 3-pointer.
"Our girls have to understand that to beat the teams that are above you in the standings, you have to persevere," Mitchell said.
The Broncbusters did that all night long. And their end-of-quarter execution was nearly flawless.
In the first quarter, Jada Washington connected on a corner 3 at the buzzer. At the end of the second, Washington beat two defenders to the rack for an easy layup that gave Garden City a 38-35 edge at the break. Then at the end of the third, Washington passed the torch to Roberts, who got around Stapleton for a right-handed layup that pushed the Broncbusters lead back to eight.
"We are just going to continue to have real, hard practices," Mitchell said. "It obviously paid off tonight."
The Cougars made things tense in the final stanza, taking their first lead of the night when Jeanna Dixon scored on a transition layup. But that advantage lasted only 17 seconds before Abigail Green hit an 18-foot jumper on the other end. Garden City never trailed again, and closed the contest on an 18-6 run.
"This is a good win against a very good team," Mitchell said. "But we can't be satisfied because we are still looking to be consistent."
Green finished the night with 12 points and two assists for Garden City, who improved to 6-2 in their last eight games. Roberts bounced back from her 5-of-19 shooting performance vs. Butler to score 12 points on 5-of-10 from the field, while Washington chipped in 12 and six dimes.
Stapleton reached double figures for the 15th time this season with 16 points for Barton County, who lost at home for only the second time this season. Taylor Regan, who set the program record with 19 rebounds on Wednesday night vs. Colby, pulled down 18 on Saturday and scored 13. Dixon added 13 points and Jellison 11 on 5-of-10 shooting.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cowley-Wednesday, Jan. 24-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app