Late free throws power Otero to upset of Butler, 74-67
LUBBOCK, Texas – Otero Junior College head coach Landon Steele trusts his squad, so when they told him they wanted to switch from zone defense to man-to-man while trailing by two Monday night, he listened.
That switch allowed the Rattlers to close the game with an 8-0 run – all from the free-throw line – and Otero pulled off the upset in the first round of the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Championships with a 74-67 victory over Butler Community College at the Rip Griffin Center.
Emma Florez scored seven of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, most of it from the charity stripe, to cap her double-double with 10 rebounds, and the Rattlers (18-3) converted 9 of 10 attempts form the line in the final 1:32 to pull out the win.
“I think it’s a pride thing,” Steele said. “I make them play zone so much because I feel it is so hard to play against a zone, that sometimes you have to loosen up the reins a little bit and do something different. We did that against Casper as well in our regional tournament final. They lit us up from three, and we (switched and) played 35 minutes of man, the most we’ve played this year. But I trust them, and they played their hearts out.”
With the win, Otero (18-3) advances to the second around on Wednesday where it will face No. 5 seed Northwest Florida State at 3 p.m. Butler finishes its season at 20-4.
While few points separated the teams on the scoreboard, there were areas that Otero won that made the difference that don’t show up on in the final score.
Both teams committed 28 turnovers, but Otero did a better job of capitalizing on those, converting Butler’s miscues into 30 points compared to just 22 for the Grizzlies. Otero had 10 offensive rebounds to 15 for Butler, but both teams scored 16 second-chance points off those boards.
Ultimately, going 18-for-22 from the free-throw line compared to 14-for-22 for Butler, and hitting 12 3-points shots to just seven for the Grizzlies, were the biggest factors. Florez was 6-of-6 from the stripe in the fourth quarter and 11 of 12 for the game.
“We knew coming into the game that rebounding defensively was going to be a key for us,” Steele said. “Obviously our game plan was to pack the paint and not let their bigs go off on us. We gave up a couple of threes early … but our kids found a way to make plays at the end and hit big shots and hit big free throws.”
Tamara Nard, who is committed to play at the University of Houston next year, led the Grizzlies with 16 points and nine rebounds. But Butler lost its other playmaker, guard Skyla Wright, with a leg injury in the first quarter. She spent the rest of the game on the bench with a brace on her left leg. Without her team-high 14.6 points per game, the Grizzlies struggled to build some consistency offensively in the fourth quarter, hitting just 23 percent from the field.
Leah Mafua added 16 points for the Rattlers while Sophie Abela, Kristina Hagood and Jada Burton had nine each in the win.
Mafua’s 3-pointer from the left wing just before the end of the third quarter put the Rattlers up 57-53, and from there the lead swing back and forth. Four straight free throws by Paris Mullins gave Butler its biggest lead of the second half at 66-62 with 3:45 to play, but Otero outscored Butler 12-1 to close out the game and the win.