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Turnovers cost Taylor women in national tourney loss

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

For most of this season, Concordia (Neb.) University’s women’s basketball team was perched at the top of the NAIA Division II rankings. Only a Jan. 31 loss to Midland (Neb.), a Great Plains Athletic Conference-rival, dropped the Bulldogs in behind Southeastern (Fla.) for the top spot entering the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

Late Friday morning, Taylor University learned why Concordia has been so highly acclaimed throughout the 2017-18 season.

The Bulldogs used a high-pressure defense to force 29 Taylor turnovers and converted those chances into a 34-15 advantage in points off turnovers in earning a 71-50 win over the Trojans and a spot in the Elite Eight.

“With one day of preparation for that type of team, the game they lost they we’re stricken with a flu epidemic, it’s hard,” Taylor coach Jody Martinez said. “We had a good gameplan and the girls were excited to play, but we couldn’t simulate the speed on their press and they are just so deep on the bench. It was like playing 10 kids the whole game that played the same way.

“They had too many weapons.”

The Bulldogs led NAIA DII in total steals and ranked third in steals per game (15.3) and finished with 21 against the Trojans. 

Kendall Bradbury scored the game’s first basket to give Taylor its first and only lead of the game before Concordia ripped off 10 consecutive points en route to building a 21-9 lead after one quarter.

The Trojans wouldn’t go easily, though, and held the Bulldogs scoreless for more than six minutes to start the second quarter and closed their deficit to 21-19. However, Concordia outscored Taylor 11-3 in the final four minutes to take a 32-22 lead to intermission.

Taylor appeared to seize momentum at the end of the half when Lauren James swished home a long 3-point attempt, but the shot was waived off after an official review.

The Trojans drew as close as seven in the third quarter on a Cassidy Wyse 3-pointer just two minutes in to the second half, but Concordia scored eight straight points to move in front 44-29, then built the lead to 58-35 entering the final eight minutes.

“We had 29 turnovers on 34 points and that’s the stat that stands out,” Martinez said. “We had it a two-point game in the second quarter and they went on a run and were 10 at the half. We could never get over the hump and they just wore us out. One day of preparation for this type of team is not enough time.”

“Twenty nine turnovers means 29 possessions of not shooting the ball, 29 shots you don’t get to shoot and we’re an offensive team,” he added. “(Concordia) averages (nearly) 90 points a game and we held them to 71. I told the girls you held them in the 60s (without turnovers) and if you do that you’re going to be fine. But you’ve got to take care of the ball.”

Bradbury finished her stellar season with 18 points and 12 rebounds, recording her 17th double-double for the Trojans. Wyse ended with 12 points and six rebounds while Haley Stratman added six.

Wyse and Josie Cobb, who led the Trojans with five assists, were two of three seniors on Taylor’s roster and both played important roles on and off the court as the program made the transition to Martinez in his first year.

“It was emotional. I had tears in my eyes because I had to say good bye to my seniors, two specific seniors that gave four years of their life to this institution,” Martinez said. “You want them to go out a winner, but there is only going to be one team that wins this thing.”

Taylor will return 10 letter winners next season, including Bradbury who finished second in DII at more than 24 points per game, along with three more of its top six scorers. Martinez hopes a taste of success and a disappointing ending will help Taylor find its way back to nationals next season after the program made its first appearance since 2010 this year.

“We challenged the returners to use this experience this week to get back here,” Martinez said. “There are a lot of teams in America that never get this opportunity and our returners will have that chance again.”