The Western Nebraska Community College and Hutchinson Community College women’s basketball team are both making their third straight trip to the NJCAA national tournament in Lubbock, Texas.
Both teams lost their opening games the previous two tournaments. So, when the 29-3 Cougars and the 30-3 Blue Dragons take to the court Monday at 5 p.m. MST at Lubbock Christian University, one of the two schools will pick up a win.
WNCC’s last win at the national tournament came in 2014 when the Cougars defeated State Fair Community College 63-60 before falling to Trinity Valley Community College 77-48.
Monday evening they will face Hutchinson for the first time in school history.
It should be a good competitive game as both teams are pretty equal. But it won’t be an easy go as Hutchinson earned an at-large bid to the national tournament after falling to Butler Community College 61-60 in their regional tournament.
WNCC, in the meantime, captured their second title in three years in topping Casper College 65-60.
. WNCC earned the trip to nationals by winning the Region IX tournament with a 65-60 win over Casper College.
The Cougars are preparing for Hutchinson no different then they have all season for any teams. WNCC practiced nearly 90 minutes at Lamar Community College on Saturday and then they will have a shoot-around Sunday at Lubbock Christian. The Cougars will have another shoot-around Monday morning at a Lubbock High School.
The players are ready and say they are focused.
“We are practicing hard everyday and staying focused,” Allysah Boothe, a sophomore from Chicago, said. “We are executing our offense and locking down on defense.”
The Cougars and Hutchinson are two similar teams. So, if WNCC is to come away with a win, they need to play their game and do the little things.
“We need to play our game how we’ve been playing all year,” Boothe said. “Really, we just need to disrupt their offense.”
No one knows what kind of a game Monday will be, whether it will be high scoring or one of defense.
WNCC is averaging 91 points a contest and giving up 58 points. Hutchinson is scoring at a clip of 82 points and giving up 52.2 points.
Both teams have solid scorers. WNCC has three players averaging double digits. Merle Wiehl is among the top five in scoring at 23.1 points a game. Wiehl holds WNCC’s career and single season scoring records, topping 1,200 career points in a win over Casper College in January. She has scored over 650 points this season. Tishara Morehouse and Taylor Joplin are right behind at 14.9 and 12.7 points a game.
Hutchinson has a couple double figure scorers.
Sophomore Dejanae Roebuck, a 5-foot-11 forward is averaging 15.4 points, followed by sophomore Jada Mickens, a 6-0 forward is averaging 11.2 points. Freshman Makayla Vannet, a 5-6 guard is averaging 11.1 points a game. Most of Vannett’s shots have come from 3-point range, shooting 37.4 percent.
WNCC’s long-range shooting is the top in the nation at at 38 percent in connecting on 378 treys while allowing just 160 treys. Eight of the Cougars’ 11 players are shooting 30 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by Wiehl’s 118 made treys.
Holding teams down from the 3-point arc is one of the team’s defensive’s strengths. And that is why defense is the key for the Cougars success.
“Defense wins games, so if we focus and lock down on defense,” Boothe said, “teams will struggle against us.”
While WNCC is one of the top shooting teams, they also can do other things. Hutchinson has a few statistical advantages over WNCC, including rebound (45-42), assists 20-19), steals (12-11).
WNCC enters Monday’s contest on a 17-game winning streak. The Cougars have scored 90-plus points in 20 games, including 10 triple digit contests.
Hutchinson isn’t quite that offensive but close. Hutchinson has scored over 90 points in just 10 games and over 100 points five times.
Defense, then, will be the key. And the Cougars have been playing well in the second semester since the loss to Casper on January. Since then, WNCC has ran off 17 straight wins, including a thrilling last-second winning shot win by Wiehl over Iowa Western Community College 69-66 and the 65-60 win over Casper. WNCC also held Sheridan College and Eastern Wyoming College, their first two regional tournament opponents to under 50 points,
“It has been the best we have played all year,” Boothe said. “We really started to get the hang of each other and more competitive as it is the second time around.”
When it comes to nationals, three of the sophomores have been at the big dance last year. Wiehl and Eva Langton, of course, played for WNCC. Andrijana Reljic was at nationals with Northwest Florida State. It will be the others first trip playing on a big stage like this.
The winner of the WNCC and Hutchinson game will play No. 4 Angelina College, who is 29-3 on the season in Wednesday at noon in the Sweet 16. Angelina defeated Tyler Junior College 60-39 in their regional tournament title game.
NJCAA Tournament Schedule
Monday, March 18
9 a.m. – 16) Cochise vs. 17) Florida Southwestern
11 a.m. – 9) Jones County vs. 24) Three Rivers
1 p.m. – 15) Walters State vs. 18) Miles
3 p.m. – 10) South Plains vs. 23) Harford
5 p.m. – 13) Hutchinson vs. 20) WNCC
7 p.m. – 12) Tyler vs. 21) Salt Lake
Tuesday, March 19
9 a.m. – 14) Trinity Valley vs. No. 19 South Georgia Tech
11 a.m. – 11) Northwest Florida State vs. 22) Northern Oklahoma-Enid
1 p.m. – 1) Wabash Valley vs. Cochise/Florida Southwestern winner
3 p.m. – 8) New Mexico vs. Jones/Three Rivers winner
5 p.m. – 2) Gulf Coast vs. Walters State/Miles winner
7 p.m. – 7) Seward County vs. South Plains/Harford winner
Wednesday, March 20
12 p.m. – 4) Angelina vs. Hutchinson/WNCC winner
2 p.m. – 5) Odessa vs. Tyler/Salt Lake winner
4 p.m. – 3) Shelton State vs. Trinity Valley/South Georgia Tech winner
6 p.m. – 6) Butler vs. NW Florida State/NOC-Enid winner
Thursday, March 21
Friday, March 22
Semifinals at 3 and 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 23
Finals at 10 a.m. on CBS Sports Network