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Bradbury's free throws lift Taylor past IWU

JUMP SHOT: Indiana Wesleyan's Margo Woughter puts up a shot in the Wildcats loss to Taylor Wednesday night.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Taylor University has been the hottest women's team in the Crossroads League and Wednesday evening the Trojans' confidence and dogged determination kept them on a roll.

The Trojans started out against Indiana Wesleyan scorching from 3-point range and built a big lead. Yet, it took a defensive stand in the paint and then two free throws from all-everything Kendall Bradbury for NAIA Division II's 11th-ranked team to pull out a 72-70 victory over the No. 16 Wildcats in Luckey Arena.

"I guess it was just toughness," Taylor's Becca Buchs explained after the Trojans' sixth consecutive win. "(IWU) hit shots, we hit shots, they got a lot of offensive rebounds (14) and I guess we should have took care of that. But we kept fighting and didn't let the little stuff get to us and kept our composure."

The game was tied 70-all with 4.1 seconds left and the Wildcats from a side out attempted a lob pass inside to their leading scorer Nicole Ignasiak. A Taylor defender tipped the pass, Bradbury recovered the ball and Ignasiak fouled attempting to get the ball.

Bradbury's two free throws put Taylor (14-4, 5-2 Crossroads League) after the Trojans fell behind 70-68 on IWU freshman Margo Woughter's 3-pointer with 11.5 seconds to play. Taylor had tied it when Becca Buchs was fouled on a drive to the basket with 4.1 seconds remaining and she knocked down two free throws.

Bradbury, NAIA DII's second-leading scorer who finished with 32 points, said Trojans coach Jody Martinez anticipated IWU's final play and the Trojans were ready for it.

"Coach said they were going to run it and they had run it 2-3 times before," Bradbury said. "We just clogged up the paint and Becca or Abby (Buchs) got the tip and I grabbed the ball and secured the ball. We knew we would go to overtime if anything, but we wanted to get the stop."

IWU (13-6, 6-1) failed to defend its home court and dropped into a first-place tie with No. 8 Marian for the league lead. Coach Ethan Whaley saw his team fight back from a 15-point deficit and had a chance to win at the end after trailing for much of the game.

"We wanted to get the ball to Nicole and felt like any time she touches it down there we got the advantage," Whaley said. "The pass was just a bit short, but if we could do it again I'd probably run the same play. Margo's our best passer and Nicole's our best finisher down low and we got what we wanted, but we just didn't capitalize.

"We dug ourselves a hole and they made shots, but to our girls credit they fought back and grinded it out one possession at a time," he added. "I'm so proud of our team, and that was a heck of a game ... Taylor is a really good team."

Taylor thrives on 3-point shooting, but what the Trojans accomplished from behind the arc in the opening half was truly exceptional. Bradbury, a 26 percent 3-point shooter, knocked down three straight attempts to start the game and the Trojans were a combined 6-of-10 in the opening period and 10-of-16 over the first half for 62.5 percent.

"The ball movement was good and the gameplan was excellent and the girls executed on the offensive end," Martinez said. "We we knew what gaps were open, but the challenge was to hit the shot and we did ... we average 11 a game and almost had our average at halftime."

Abby Buchs' 3-pointer gave Taylor its biggest lead at 35-20 with 6:20 before halftime. The Trojans had made three baskets from inside the arc in the opening half. The Buchs twins were a combined 8-of-11 from behind the arc with Abby successful on all four attempts.

IWU, though, scored 12 straight and made it a one possession game at 35-32. Taylor's Aubrey Wright answered back with a '3' and Bradbury made 1-of-2 free throws for a 39-32 advantage at intermission.

Throughout the second half, IWU made runs and closed to within a single possession only to have Taylor respond with a basket. Finally, the 'Cats took their first lead 56-54 when Jene'e Goodwin and Dayton Groninger opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back '3s' and from there the lead switched hands nine times and was tied on seven other occasions.

"We knew we were going to have a difficult time with their size and rebounding would be a challenge," said Martinez, whose team was out-rebounded 32-25. "Wesleyan was down 15 and kept battling and we had a couple calls that slowed down our momentum and had to wait for the officials to do the right thing out there. 

"But it's a road game and conference game and a true test and we just have to build from this," he added.

Martinez was referring to an official's call where Becca Buchs' elbow caught an IWU player in the face in the second quarter. After a long conference between the three officials and consulting with the television monitor, Buchs was assessed a flagrant foul and Woughter knocked down two free throws and help fuel IWU's rally.

Bradbury played all 40 minutes and connected on 10-of-20 shots including 5-of-9 from 3-point range and added 7-of-8 free throws. Three-point shooting has been an area Bradbury said he's put in work in an attempt to become more proficient.

"I've been struggling from the 3-point line and that got my confidence going, and it got us going," she said. "I knew they were going to sag off a little bit and not let me drive, and when I saw that I knew I would just have to take shots. Coach said my role on the team is to score and he doesn't care about my shooting percentage or things like that, so I just keep shooting and not worry about whether they go in or not because that's my role.

Becca Buchs added 20 and Abby Buchs 14 while the rest of the Taylor team scored six points.

Woughter and Lange each scored 14 to lead IWU and Dayton Groninger scored 10 off the bench. Ignasiak had to deal with foul trouble and scored 9 points on a 15-point average, while Elaina Ededuwa had eight points and eight rebounds and was a fourth quarter spark.

IWU starter Anne Secrest left in the first half with an apparent knee injury after running into a Taylor player on a drive to the basket. Secrest did not return after scoring six points and had an ice pack on her left knee after the game.