No. 13 seed Hutchinson could have a battle on its hands when it plays No. 20 seed Western Nebraska in the first-round of the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament at 6 p.m. Monday in Lubbock, Texas.
The Blue Dragons (30-3) must find ways to prevent the Cougars (29-3) from unleashing their high-powered offense.
“We will be competing against a very talented Western Nebraska team which, just to compare some scores, has played a couple of opponents we have played,” Hutchinson coach John Ontjes said during a press conference Monday. “They played Seward (County) early in the season, and then they played Iowa Western throughout the middle of the season.”
The Cougars lost to both Seward County (74-64 in the Pizza Hut Classic at Liberal) and Iowa Western (80-75 at Council Bluffs, Iowa). The Blue Dragons were defeated twice by the Saints but secured a 71-50 victory against the Reivers at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Western Nebraska is an accurate shooting team, ranking third nationally in free-throw percentage (75.2), fifth in 3-point percentage (37.9) and eighth in field-goal percentage (46.5). Hutchinson is 20th in free-throw percentage (71.1), 52nd in 3-point percentage (32.0) and 11th in field-goal percentage (46.3).
With more shots filling the basket, the Cougars have a better scoring average than the Blue Dragons, 90.1 points to 81.9. Those statistics are the fifth- and 14th-best averages, respectively, in the nation.
WNCC sophomore guard Merle Wiehl, who makes 54.8 percent of her shots overall, enters the contest with the third-best scoring average in the country (23.1 points). Freshman guards Tishara Morehouse (14.9 points, 44.1 percent field goals) and Garden Plain native Taylor Joplin (12.7, 44.9) are the other double-digit scorers for the Cougars. All three make free throws at 75 percent-clip or higher while Merle (46.3 percent) and Joplin (38.2 percent) are accurate from behind the 3-point arc.
Sophomore forwards Dejanae Roebuck (15.4, 51.6) and Jada Mickens (11.2, 56.3) and freshman guard Makayla Vannett (11.1, 40.9) kickstart the HCC offense. Most of Vannett's shots come from 3-point range, where she supplies a team-leading 37.4 percent. The Blue Dragons best free-throw shooters are Roebuck (79.6), Mickens (78.0) and Abby Ogle (72.6).
Hutchinson has statistical advantages over Western Nebraska in four other categories, including rebounding (44.7-42.3), assists (19.5-18.7), steals (12.3-10.8) and blocked shots (4.5-2.3).
Roebuck (7.5), Mickens (6.0) and redshirt sophomore center Tijuana Kimbro (5.9) collect the most rebounds for HCC. Ogle (3.5) is the Blue Dragons' assist leader, followed by freshman guard Milan Schimmel (3.1) and sophomore guard Tia Bradshaw (2.8). Ogle's 2.6 steals are also a Hutchinson high while Kimbro is a rim protector with 1.5 blocked shots.
SIx-foot-3 sophomore forward Andrijana Reljic is the top rebounder (5.5) for WNCC. Morehouse sets up the Cougars' offense with 3.8 assists while controlling the defense with 2.8 steals.
Western Nebraska takes better care of the ball with the eighth-best turnover average (11.3) in the nation. HCC is 87th nationally with 17.2 miscues per game.