Andrade, Hawthorne power New Mexico Junior College past Hutchinson, 60-54, into title game
LUBBOCK, Texas – Opponents have made no secrets about how they have intended to guard New Mexico Junior College throughout the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship.
Whatever they can do to take away posts Sydnee Wynn and Eternati Willock has been the key. But throughout the tournament, it hasn’t worked enough to keep the Thunderbirds from advancing.
Hutchinson Community College tried it in the semifinals on Friday at the Rip Griffin Center, and perhaps came the closest to making the strategy work. But the Thunderbirds found other ways to get the job done, outlasting the Blue Dragons 60-54 to reach the title game at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
“That started at the beginning of the year. We’ve seen every kind of zone and every kind of collapse defense you can imagine, and we’ve had to change our lineup, and certainly been able to hit the three-ball more,” NMJC head coach Drew Sanders said. “Then we kind of made Thamires (Andrade) the focus of our offense and she’s done a great job since we’ve made her the focus.”
Andrade scored a game-high 14 points, and Laci Hawthorne came off the bench to add 13 points as the Thunderbirds (29-5) advance to the first title game in school history where they will face either Gulf Coast State or Trinity Valley.
“I’m here and I’m in a championship game and I’m so excited,” said Andrade, a native of Brazil. “We’ve been working hard, and I think we deserve, I’m sure we deserve (to be here).”
Hutchinson (33-4) made it a point – just like most other teams on the Thunderbirds’ schedule have this year – of limiting the touches by 6-foot-3 centers Sydnee Wynn and Eternati Willock. For the first half, it worked, and the two combined for just 14 points and 17 rebounds.
But that opened the door for Andrade and Hawthorne, even as Sanders made it a point after halftime to increase the touches for his two bigs. Jumee President added nine points, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:56 to play that put the game out of reach for the Blue Dragons at 57-49.
“It was a physical game that was hard to make baskets in,” Hutchinson head coach John Ontjes said.” They pulled away in the second half off our missed baskets and poor transition defense, and transition offense from their part. They used their strengths in the second half, pounded the basketball inside and took advantage of their size. We were slow to get on some double-teams and they finished on plays around the rim.”
The Blue Dragons struggled with what normally is their strength – shooting the basketball. Hutchinson started the game 1-for-15 from 3-point range and finished just 4 of 22 from beyond the arc. That worked to Hutchinson’s advantage in the first half as the Thunderbirds struggled to put the ball in the basket as well, but NMJC eventually found a way to overcome the Blue Dragons’ defense.
“Our shots just weren’t falling,” said Hutchinson sophomore Dejanae Roebuck. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm. Other than that, we played hard and fought hard. I’m proud of my team.”
Even with their shooting struggles, the Blue Dragons had chances late. Hutchinson was within 52-49 before President’s 3-pointer ignited a 6-0 run to give NMJC a 58-49 lead.
Tia Bradshaw led the Blue Devils with 11 points and Roebuck added 10 in the loss.
Try as they might, the Blue Dragons could not get the ball to drop in from 3-point range, hitting just 1 of 15 from beyond the arc in the first half. Hutchinson’s only saving grace in the first 20 minutes was that the Thunderbirds weren’t much better from the field, hitting on 8 of 26 shots (31 percent) while going just 2-of-8 from the 3-point line.
The teams also combined for 19 turnovers and 40 rebounds.
Neither team led by more than four points at any point in the first half, and even that was short-lived. Sydnee Winn hit two free throws and Mayra Caicedo drained a 3-pointer in the first two minutes of the second quarter to put the Thunderbirds up 16-12, but Hutchinson answered with an 8-2 run, give of those points from Abby Ogle, to lead 20-18 with 4:03 to play in the half.
NMJC got a scare late in the half when Caicedo appeared to hit her head after having the ball poked away by Ogle on a drive to the basket. Caicedo stayed down holding the back of her head while play continued at the other end of the court, and she went to the bench for the remaining seconds of the half. But she was back on the floor to start the third quarter.
It took a 9-2 run midway through the third quarter, however, for the Thunderbirds to gain the upper hand, and the Blue Dragons were forced to chase the rest of the game.
Ogle led Hutchinson with five points in the first half. Andrade had five for the Thunderbirds.