WINONA LAKE — Coach Dan Davis was pretty keyed up ahead of his first NCCAA Tournament game at the helm of Grace women’s basketball Wednesday. The Lady Lancers looked pretty ready to go, too.
Grace jumped on Bluefield early and often, using fullcourt, trapping pressure to build double-digit leads in the first quarter and continued to steadily build in an 88-52 romp over the Rams in the two teams’ tourney opener at Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
“Me personally, from the time I woke up this morning my heart was a-pounding, fingers were a-shaking. I had to go get a good, crisp run in about lunch time I was so dag gone nervous and excited, you know what I mean? You just want to watch your team go out there and give a good showing,” said Davis.
“I always tell the girls if you don’t feel the butterflies and if you don’t have that little bit of the nerves before the game you know something is wrong — the ticker ain’t working right. It’s a great feeling to have and then just of course to come out with a win, I’m just happy for them. I’m happy for those ladies because they work hard.”
The Lancers opened with six unanswered points and already led by double digits at 17-7 at the 2:04 mark of the first period. The Rams’ night only got worse from there as Grace pressed its guests pretty much wire-to-wire and already led by a comfortable, 43-18 margin at halftime.
The home team’s full court pressure and swarming defense in the half court yielded 20 turnovers by Bluefield, which the Lancers capitalized on with 19 points off turnovers. But more than transition buckets, that pressure never allowed the Rams to get comfortable in their offense as they scuffled to a 36.5 shooting mark, including a meager 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) mark over the first two periods as Grace took firm control before the half. And that tempo allowed Grace to put up 77 shots, meanwhile, knocking down 45.5 percent (35-of-77) of those in a balanced offensive performance.
“Our style and their style are a little different. They like to keep the game probably more in the 50s, and we want it 70s and higher if we can,” explained Davis. “We knew the tempo of this game was important, so we just wanted to make sure we applied our pressure in our full court press and also the pressure in the half court. I thought we really came out and started that from pretty much start to finish.”
Grace’s uptempo style was made possible by a deep cast as Davis platooned his players Wednesday, subbing out five at a time on multiple occasions and going 13 deep against Bluefield. There was hardly a discernible difference between the Lancers’ first and second five, and at times Grace’s reserves even outplayed the starters.
“We believe in our bench. We believe we have the depth in our bench, and the last two weeks our practices have been very intense,” Davis said. “We really have gotten after it, and I felt like our bench has elevated their game over the last two weeks so we felt like, hey, let’s go with it. They were huge in the third quarter. We kind of came out, eh, maybe a little flat. We took their best shot, but that bench group that came in, that second group, when they came in at the end of the quarter, we had a plus-18 difference in scoring. You’ve got to have that. You’ve got to be ready when your number is called, and for those girls to do that was huge.”
A total of 11 players made the scoring column for Grace with four in double figures, led by sharpshooter Kyannah Stull’s 15 points and five rebounds. Brooke Treadway gave her team 12 points and five rebounds battling on the interior, Kaylie Warble scored 10 more on the inside, and Vironnica Drake used the dribble drive to good effect on her way to another 10 points. Brooke Sugg, Lauren Godfrey and Kamryn Hostetler all came close to double digits, too, with eight, eight and seven points, respectively.
“Every coach loves that. You love to see that because it means you’re moving the ball, you’re sharing the ball, you’re getting shots you want, and everybody is involved a little bit,” said Davis. “And that makes it harder for the defense to guard it. I think that was huge.”
Blufield got 12 points from Danae Cox and 11 from Haley Turman, while Emily Hart finished with eight for the Rams (16-17).
Grace (17-15) will play Thursday against defending NCCAA champion Mid-America Christian at 8:45 p.m. The Lancers are playing for their first ever championship game berth at the tourney.