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WNCC women's basketball falls to ASA at natioanls
 March 19, 2013

SALINA, Kan. – The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team’s bid for a national title came to a halt as ASA College overcame a 12-point deficit in capturing a 74-68 win in the NJCAA National Tournament in Salina, Kan., on Tuesday.

                The Cougars, who finish the season at 20-15, controlled the tempo for much of the second half but saw ASA’s Shaquita Smith bury three 3-pointers late and finish with a game-high 30 points to earn a berth into Wednesday’s contest with No. 3 seed Hutchinson Community College.

                Jessica Aratani, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, said Smith practically single-handedly beat the Cougars by herself down the stretch with those acrobatic 3-pointers.

                “We haven’t seen a player like that all year,” Aratani said. “She was really athletic and she could hit shots from anywhere. She kept them in the game and it hurt us there in the end.”

                For the Cougars, they now the game was theirs but couldn’t find an answer for Smith or the offensive rebounding of 6-foot-3 Tiffany Jones, who finished with 16 rebounds, nine of which were on the offensive end.

                “This season has been amazing. This team is amazing. We love each so much and we were willing to work hard for each other, sophomore Gritt Ryder said while trying to hold back the tears. “That is why it is so hard now for the season to be over because of a game like this where we didn’t play hard and play like we have all season.

                “We didn’t get humiliated but the thing is that we played a close game but if we did more things, we would have beat them by a lot.”

                Aratani echoed Ryder that they wanted to get the win not just for themselves, but for the community back home.

“Definitely we had an amazing season. I don’t regret anything,” she said. “It is just hard to come down here and not get a win at nationals because we wanted to get a win for everybody and for ourselves, but we tried our best and I think it is just tough right now.”

Aratani said this is one of the contests that they easily could have won, especially how they were playing early on.

“We were doing the little things right at the beginning in hitting shots and blocking out with    their height advantage,” she said. “Overall we lost it in the last part of the second half. We kind of fell apart and let them get those runs at the end and we didn’t have the momentum.”

What makes the loss hard to swallow is just how close the Cougars were in picking up the win. WNCC led by 12 at 58-46 on a Ryder steal and old-fashioned 3-pointer play with 9:04 to play. WNCC kept playing strong over the next three minutes, leading 64-55 on two Mikayla Brower free throws.

After that, though, is when things went sour as the Avengers outscored the Cougars 19-4 the last five minutes of the game. And it was ASA’s two big weapons, Smith and Lewis, that did the damage. Smith hit an NBA 3-pointer with 3 minutes to play to put ASA in front 66-64.

Ryder came back to tie the game with two free throws, but when Smith hit a turnaround, jumper 3-pointer that found the net to put ASA up 70-66, the momentum was taken out of the Cougars’ sails.

The last five minutes of the game, however, was not an indication of how well the Cougars played at nationals. ASA held a 20-19 lead in the first half only to watch the Cougars go on a 20-0 run behind back-to-back 3-pointers by Shalisa Moffit andMaurissa Ortega. Ortega’s bank shot put WNCC up 29-20. WNCC went up 31-22 after Brower hit two technical.

ASA came back to slice the lead to 31-30 before Brower hit four straight free throws to help the Cougars lead 37-33 at halftime.

Early in the second half, WNCC was playing well as they led 49-39 just seven minutes intot he contest on a Laurin Rivera driving bucket. Later, Aratani put in a spinning insdie bucket before Ryder’s steal and bucket.

Ryder said despite the outcome, they played hard.

“I think we played tough, but our shot wasn’t falling today,” she said. “Also, it was a big key that their shots were falling and ours wasn’t. But we still should beat teams when our shots aren’t falling. We let them get too many offensive rebounds."

                Rebounding was a huge factor in the game. The Avengers out-rebounded WNCC 53-36 as Lewis had 16 boards and Sashana Bucknor had 13 points. Those offensive rebounds, in turn, resulted in 21 second-effort points for ASA while WNCC had just two.

                Shooting was pretty equal as WNCC shot 35 percent from the field and 33 percent beyond the arc. ASA was 35 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc. WNCC was lights out from the free throw line, shooting 89 percent (23 of 28). Brower was a perfect 12 of 12 from the charity stripe. ASA was 18 of 21 from the free throw.

                The Cougars had four players finish in double figures. Brower led the way with 17 points followed by Ryder with 13 points, and Ashley Stevens and Aratani with 12 points each.

                WNCC loses four sophomores next year in Aratani, Ryder, Kelsey Doddridge, and Idil Ozbayrak, Ryder and Aratani said they wouldn’t have traded the experiences they had this season for anything.

                “I want to say thanks for all the support this season,” Ryder said. “This team is amazing and tanks to Coach Harnish and Coach T and for everybody for putting so much work into this season.”

                Aratani, who spent two seasons as a starter for the Cougars, said she loves this team.

                “I wouldn’t have asked for anything more. I love this team and we have had a great year,” she said. “We went out on top of the region and that was fun and exciting. Getting a trip to nationals was great, too, We wish we could have went a little further than this but overall I wouldn’t trade anything because I just love all the players.”

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