By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Charinee Mitchell believes her team is infected with what she calls the slug bug.
"I hope that slug bug leaves us, and we never see it again," Mitchell said with a big smile on her face.
Truth be told, Mitchell and her team had plenty to smile about. Even if their performance was far from perfect.
Jada Washington scored 15 points, Shakendra Tilley was nearly flawless, netting 14 on 5-of-6 shooting, and Garden City toppled Northwest Kansas Tech 63-52 in the opening round of the Region VI Tournament Thursday night at Conestoga Arena. They advance to play Hutchinson Monday afternoon at Hartman Arena.
"It just wasn't pretty basketball," Mitchell said. "We need it to be pretty, and it just wasn't anywhere close to that."
It was enough however to get Garden City back to Wichita for the first time since 2016.
"I'm proud of the kids for getting it done," Mitchell said. "But we are giving them Friday off, and hopefully this slug bug goes away."
Despite the so-called epidemic, the Broncbusters jumped out to a 10-4 lead, thanks to a tenacious defense that forced the Mavericks into six early turnovers.
"I liked our energy on the defensive end, but we just can't hit shots right now," Mitchell said.
Despite the up-and-down shooting, the Broncbusters put together a pretty impressive first quarter. Jessica Carillo scored on back-to-back hook shots; then followed with a free throw before Daz'Monique Johnson hit a tough shot in the lane to put Garden City (20-11, 16-10) up 18-8. They had a nine-point edge going into the second and stretched that to 10 once Dejanie Graves nailed a 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second period.
Northwest Kansas Tech responded in the second quarter by scoring seven straight points, and N'Mandria Reynolds 3-pointer from the top of the arc, cut Garden City's lead to three, 21-18 with 6:45 to go in the half.
"We really could never pull away from them," Mitchell said. "It was just ugly all the way around."
Garden City had a five-point lead at the intermission and again built their cushion to double digits when Abigail Green hit a 3-pointer followed by a transition layup to make it 33-22 in the third. They pushed that to 13 when Tilley knocked down a pair of free throws and were up 11 going into the fourth.
"To compete in this tournament, we have to figure out a way to knock down shots," said Mitchell, whose team was just 6-of-22 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Still, the only real scare Northwest Kansas Tech put into the Broncbusters came late in the final stanza when Reynolds capped a 7-0 run with a push shot in the lane that cut Garden City's lead to six, 53-47 with 3:34 to go. But Carillo answered with back-to-back layups and Washington, Green and Tilley combined to go 6-of-6 at the line down the stretch to put the game on ice.
"If we even want to compete with Hutchinson, we have to put the ball in the basket," Mitchell said. "That's a must."
Garden City finished just 22-of-65 from the floor (34 percent) and misfired on 17 of their 20 3-point attempts. But they drained 16-of-18 at the line, and won the battle on the glass (43-36) against the No. 1 rebounding team in the Jayhawk Conference.
Green finished with 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals for Garden City, who has won eight out of their last 10 games. Carillo had another strong showing off the bench, scoring 10 points in 23 minutes.
Tran Brown, the second leading scorer in the region, was held to just four points on 1-of-10 shooting for Northwest Kansas Tech, who has never won a postseason game since the program's inception in 2012. Destiny Lindsey scored 14 points to pace the Mavericks, and Reynolds had 13.
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson-Monday, March 5-2:45 p.m. pregame; 3 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app