By Mike Pilosof
Independence, KS-It was definitely a mixed bag for Mike "Scoop" Harding in his first game as the interim Head Coach.
Brittany Reeves was incredible, scoring a career-high 42 points and pulling down 25 rebounds, seven shy of tying Santa Fe's Paulina Zaveckaite's NJCAA record of 32, set back in 2013, Deairah Mays chipped in 17 on 5-of-9 from downtown, and Independence pulled away late to beat Garden City 82-69 Saturday night at Pirates Fieldhouse.
"I like the way we competed, especially in that second half," Harding said after the game. "We had a lot of fight in us tonight."
Harding's patience though had to be tested. In the first half, Garden City took plenty of body blows from the Pirates, more specifically, Reeves. The sophomore post was unstoppable, scoring 10 straight points during one stretch in the first period. Zaiyah Frazier splashed home a 3, Reeves finished an and-1 layup, and Laurie Cren buried a long ball in the final seconds as Independence closed the first quarter on an 11-0 run to take a 27-12 advantage.
"Reeves ability to finish around the basket kind of shell shocked us a little bit," Harding said. "We didn't see that when we watched her on film."
The Pirates kept coming in the second. Mays swished a triple, and Reeves got free for another layup, polishing off a 16-0 surge that had Independence up 32-12 with 8:00 to play.
But give Harding's team a lot of credit. Even with Reeves' absurd 30-point first half, Garden City kept it within striking distance, thanks to an 8-0 run that was capped off by Deborah Ford's twisting elbow jumper that had the Broncbusters within 12, 36-24 with 4:10 left. They were down 13 at the intermission.
"I just told our players to keep fighting," Harding explained. "I just needed everything they had."
Despite the momentum shift, the Pirates regained control at the beginning of the second half. Frazier hit a jumper from the foul line, Mays drilled a pair of 3's, and Rasmussen knocked down a corner triple, giving Independence their largest lead of the game, 57-35 with 5:00 to play in the third.
"I think everything changed when we started picking them up full court," Harding said. "We knew that their guards were suspect handling the ball."
That change in strategy paid major dividends. Garden City forced 39 turnovers, 24 of those over the final 20 minutes of the game, which helped the Broncbusters slowly chip away. Corina Suarez Tudela knocked down a 23-footer to close the third, Boyce scored seven straight points off three straight Pirate giveaways to begin the fourth, and just like that, the Broncbusters were back to within seven on the heels of a 14-0 surge. Ariyanna Hall, back from a seven-game suspension, completed a three-point play; then followed with a driving layup, slicing the Pirates' once 22-point lead down to four, 67-63 with 4:58 remaining.
"I told the girls that if we would have fought like that in the first half, it would have been a totally different ball game," Harding said.
But as quickly as Garden City got back in the game is how fast Independence put it away. Reeves muscled her way to the basket for two, then spun free off two defenders with a beautiful drop step that pushed the lead back to double digits. The Pirates also stiffened defensively, holding the Broncbusters scoreless the final 2:18.
"I like the fact that even though we got down, our bench stayed positive," Harding added.
Garden City recorded 22 steals, seven more than their season average. Hall scored 20 points in the losing effort, and Boyce dropped in 16 in 27 minutes.
Independence shot a season-high 59 percent and finished 9-of-19 from downtown. Mays dished out a team-best five assists while Reeves went 19-of-24 from the floor.
Next up: Garden City at Neosho-Wednesday, Jan. 8-5:15 p.m. pregame; 5:30 pm tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app