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Big fourth quarter leads Taylor women to win

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

It’s not how you start, it’s often how you finish that’s most impactful in a basketball game, and Taylor University’s women gave another affirmation of that fact in the opening round of the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa on Wednesday.

The No. 15 Trojans couldn’t have started their game against No. 18 Northwest Christian (Ore.) much worse in the Tyson Event Center. Taylor missed its first seven shots of the contest and found itself in a 10-0 hole just over seven minutes into the contest.

But Taylor shook off the cold shooting, slow start and would eventually finish with a flurry. The Trojans held Northwestern Christian without a point for more than four minutes of the final quarter, outscored the Beacons 22-10 in the final 10 minutes and advanced to the second round with a 61-54 win. Fourth-seeded Taylor (22-9) now meets top-seed in the Liston Bracket, No. 2 Concordia (Neb.) (29-1) at 11:15 a.m. Friday.

Taylor finished the first quarter just 1-of-11 from the field, and marginally improved in the second. Still, the Trojans found themselves staring at a 30-15 deficit just under three minutes before halftime. Taylor coach Jody Martinez called a timeout a delivered a calming message to the Trojans.

“What I said was we need to crush their confidence. If we can crush their confidence and get momentum, that’s what we need to go into half,” Martinez said. “We need to be down 10 or less by halftime and it will be a different game in the second half. You have to trust me.” 

And the Trojans delivered. 

Josie Cobb and Becca Buchs drained back-to-back 3-pointers, then Cobb converted a conventional three-point play with four seconds remaining as Taylor closed the half with a 9-0 over the final 1:15 and trailed just 30-24 at intermission.

Northwest Christian scored the first two points after halftime, but Kendall Bradbury knocked down a pair of free throws and converted a three-point play to draw the Trojans within 32-29. Taylor drew no closer than three points in the third quarter, but the Beacons lead never extended it to more than seven at 44-37 with 41 seconds to play. Bradbury scored 10 seconds later and the teams went into the final eight minutes with Northwest Christian holding at 44-39 advantage.

Aubrey Wright started Taylor’s fourth quarter with a 3-pointer before the Trojans turned a Beacon turnover into a Bradbury basket and the game was tied for the first time at 44-all just a minute into the period. 

Northwest Christian scored the next four points, but Cassidy Wyse answered with a 3-pointer to pull the Trojans within 48-47.

Katerina Brejchova’s basket extended the Beacon lead to 50-47 with 5:55 to play, but it would be Northwest Christian’s final points until she scored again with 35 seconds remaining.

Wyse’s basket just 15 seconds after Brejchova’s first hoop and Abby Buchs swished home a ‘3’ with 4:30 to play that gave Taylor its first lead at 52-50. Bradbury scored less than two minutes later, then Abby Buchs’ rebound basket with 1:15 to play put the Trojans on top 56-50.

“I felt like we were in better shape so conditioning was a major reason for the fourth quarter success,” Martinez said. “And because we were scoring on offense, our energy level on defense went to another level. The girls were excited to execute on both ends of the court. We made their shots difficult in the fourth quarter and we were able to convert on the offensive end.” 

After Brejchova’s basket with 35 seconds to play drew the Beacons within four, Abby Buchs and Cobb each converted a pair of free throws and put Taylor on top 60-52 with 21 seconds remaining. 

Taylor had four players scored in double figures with Bradbury’s 15 points leading the way. Cobb and Wyse scored 13 each while Abby Buchs finished with 10, seven during the decisive fourth quarter.

“Abby Buchs was huge in the fourth quarter,” Martinez said. “She scored seven critical points and that’s huge from a person that’s not known for scoring for us.” 

Wyse also pulled down nine rebounds and dished out six assists while Cobb and Bradbury each corralled eight boards.

Neither team shot particularly well, Northwest Christian made 23 of 59 (39 percent) and Taylor hit 18 of 54 (33.3 percent). The Trojans connected on 10 of 32 (31 percent) from 3-point range while the Beacons were 5 of 24 (20.8 percent). Taylor had 13 assists on its 18 made field goals.

A big factor in Taylor’s win came at the free throw line. The Trojans entered the national tournament hitting 80.5 percent as a team, tops in NAIA DII, and made 15-of-19 (78.9 percent) against Northwest Christian, which was limited to just 3 of 4.