LUBBOCK, Tex. --- Twice in the third quarter of Monday night’s NJCAA women’s national tournament basketball game, it appeared as if Wabash Valley was about to reverse its fortune against lower-seeded Cochise, Arizona.
The Apaches, however, had an answer to each challenge, eventually pulling away to a surprisingly-easy 96-75 victory in the final game of the first day of play in the 24-team tourney being played at Rip Griffin Center on the campus of Lubbock Christian University.
“They made big plays when they needed them” said Wabash Valley coach Luke Scheidecker, after his 12th seeded Lady Warriors had been beaten for only the second time in 33 games. “We’d go on a spurt, they would hit a three. That’s what good teams do.”
Trailing 42-37 at halftime, WVC scored the first four points of the third quarter – a shot from Lauren Carroll followed by a rebound basket by Moe Brooks – to narrow the deficit to one point. Cochise (27-3) responded with an 8-2 run of its own to rebuild the lead to 50-43.
Then, after Alexis Vieck’s jump shot brought Wabash back to within three points at 57-54, Cochise answered with a 3-point field goal by Endia Peterson and two inside moves from 5-foot-6 Shannon Powell that made it 64-54.
Cochise took it from there. When the 21st-seeded Apaches scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to make it 72-58 the upset rout was on.
Apaches coach Laura Hughes said her veteran club – with five sophomore starters – is “very tough.”
“We have this saying ‘GRIT – greatness resides in toughness.’ We knew they were going to press us. We knew they were going to be athletic. Once we figured out what kind of game it was going to be, we bounced back.”
DeAsia Outlaw of Wabash Valley said it became more difficult for the Lady Warriors in the second half.
“Their rebounding was really good,” said Outlaw of the Apaches’ 37-29 advantage on the glass. “We got frazzled a little bit.”
Scheidecker said it came down to coverage. “A lot of times one person would miss an assignment,” he said. “We preach it all year – all five have to be on the same page at one time. It can’t be three, it can’t be four, it has to be all five.”
WVC led, 20-14, at the end of the first quarter. Then, Cochise found its shooting touch in the second, hitting 6-of-11 field goal attempts. They outscored the Lady Warriors, 28-17, in the frame to grab a five-point lead by intermission.
“I think it took us a little time to get adjusted,” Hughes said. “We’ve played only one game in about three weeks. We just battled, and we’re deep. We use that depth really well. I just think we wore (WVC) out.”
Seven players hit double-digits in the Cochise scoring column, and five different Apaches hit shots from beyond the arc line, where they were 8-of-17 on the night compared to the Lady Warriors’ 1-of-10 effort from long range.
As impressive as Cochise was inside – where 6-foot-1 Sophia Elenga led the way with 17 points – the Apaches guard play, on both sides of the ball, may have made the difference.
“Defensively, that was a tough matchup,” Hughes said. “Wabash has some extremely good scorers. But our guards did a good job of pushing the ball, our wings ran the floor, and we shot well from the 3-point line.”
Shala Dobbins, playing her first game since suffering a hand-injury late in the regular season, led Wabash Valley with 24 points. The fact she started the game at all was a game-time decision by Scheidecker. Dobbins at least avoided the risk of re-injury – which could have led to off-season surgery -- and finished her career at WVC by hitting 6-of-12 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free throw line, including her first eight in a row at the stripe.
Dobbins ended the season as the No. 4 scorer in the country, with an average of 21.4 points per game, according to NJCAA statistics.
Outlaw and Carroll also hit double figures for the Lady Warriors, with 14 points apiece.
WVC shot 48-percent from the floor on 29-of-60 accuracy. After a cold start to the arc line in the first half, the Lady Warriors took just one 3-ball attempt in the entire second half.
Cochise, the District A champions from Sierra Vista, Arizona, gets a day off Tuesday before meeting fifth-seeded Salt Lake, Utah, in the Round of 16 on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Scheidecker’s first two seasons as a head coach have been impressive. Last year at Shawnee, the Saints were 33-2, followed this year by his first WVC club, which won the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, Region 24 and District P titles, in addition to the national tournament berth.
That’s 64-4 in two years, if you’re keeping track.
“I am proud of the girls,” he said. “31-2 was one of the best records in school history. The future is bright.”