By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-If you watch enough college basketball, you'll see something that you've never seen before. Such was the case on Saturday afternoon, and it changed the complexion of the game down the stretch.
Leading 52-47 with just over two minutes to play, Jada Washington had the ball for Garden City with the shot clock winding down. The sophomore guard slashed around Kelsi Mueller and put up a floater that missed badly off the right side of the glass. Since the ball never hit the rim, the shot clock didn't reset. Courtney Hammel appeared to grab the defensive rebound only to have Washington pick her pocket. Instead of awarding the ball to the Thunderbirds for a shot-clock violation, the officials paused play and gave the Broncbusters possession. In the process, veteran Head Coach Brett Erkenbrack was slapped with a technical foul.
But moments later, the referees reversed the call, and rescinded the technical on Erkenbrack.
Such is life in the Jayhawk Conference. And that one sequence may have been the catalyst for one of the most stunning turnarounds Broncbuster fans have seen all season.
Mueller finished with a team-high 21 points, including a critical 3 in the waning seconds, Camille Awa Baud drilled a triple over Kelcy McHenry at the buzzer, and Cloud County erased a five-point deficit in the final minute to beat Garden City 54-53 at Conestoga Arena.
"I didn't agree with the call, but at the end of the day, if we get a stop at the end of the game, we aren't even talking about that," Mitchell said. "But that's how it goes."
With the win, the Thunderbirds leapfrogged over the Broncbusters in the conference standings and swept the season series in the process.
"We took a little step back today," Mitchell said. "From the get go, I didn't think we played with the same energy that we did on Wednesday night."
Even with that being the case, the Broncbusters held a five-point edge after Daz'Monique Johnson split a pair of free throws with 42 seconds remaining in the game. But after a timeout, Erkenbrack setup the perfect play, running Mueller from the left corner, along the baseline, clearing space with two end-line screens before pitching the ball to her in the right corner for a 3-pointer that she splashed home to cut the deficit to two.
"I thought we played pretty good defense for the most part," Mitchell said. "But we made a couple of costly mistakes late in the game."
On the other end, the Broncbusters, who were so poised in the clutch vs. Hutchinson just three days earlier, lost track of the timer, and Washington hoisted up a 19-footer that drew only glass, resulting in a shot clock violation that gave the ball back to Cloud County with 5.5 seconds left.
"I thought we played great defense at the end," Mitchell said.
Out of another timeout, Mueller, the most lethal 3-point shooter on the floor, was the trigger man on the inbounds. She lobbed the ball into to Baud, who used a crossover to create a slither of separation at the top of the key, before launching a desperation heave that was well defended by McHenry. The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before dropping through the net at the buzzer.
"It was one of those plays where you kind of just throw it up, and unfortunately it went in and we lost the game," Mitchell said. "But there were so many things that happened before that."
Mitchell's assertion of a lack of energy, plagued the Broncbusters in the first half. But even so, Garden City (15-10, 12-9), for the most part, controlled the tempo early on, building an 8-3 lead once Abigail Green knocked down a 3-pointer. Cloud County (16-8, 13-8) responded with an 11-2 burst, building a 14-10 advantage with 1:45 to go in the first.
"We just didn't seem as in sync in this one," Mitchell said. "And it cost us."
The Broncbusters fought back to tie it at the end of the opening frame before Green took over in the second quarter.
The sophomore scored eight points in the period, knocking down two 3-pointers and hitting a driving layup that gave Garden City a 25-22 halftime lead.
Green kept her foot on the accelerator in the third, adding her third triple of the contest in the first two minutes of the period that kept the lead at three, 28-25. Then, after Cloud County fought back to take a three-point edge, Green hit two free throws followed by Shakendra Tilley's three-point play, and Washington's buzzer beater to end the frame, giving Garden City a 39-38 lead going into the final quarter.
"We had every opportunity to win this game," Mitchell said.
Garden City stretched their lead to as many as seven once Green hit a midrange jumper with 8:19 to go in the fourth. But a 7-0 run, fueled by Mueller, who hit a 3 and a layup, tied the game at 46 with 5:50 remaining.
"We'll move on, and go to practice tomorrow and get this figured out," Mitchell said.
Tilley hit a push shot from the elbow, Green slashed to the goal for two, and McHenry laid the ball off the glass following an offensive rebound that gave the Broncbusters a five-point cushion with 3:00 to play.
Green scored 15 of her season-best 28 points in the first half and was 4-of-7 from long range for Garden City. She was 10-of-19 from the floor while the rest of her team was a combined 9-of-37 (24 percent). Tilley added nine points, and Washington had six and tied a season-high with nine rebounds.
Hammel scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds for Cloud County, who won their third straight game.
Next up: Garden City at Pratt, Wednesday, Feb. 14-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM: westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app