STERLING – Kansas Wesleyan coach Ryan Showman had some friendly advice for the committee that will select the at-large entries for next month’s NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship.
“We deserve to be in,” Showman said moments after the third-seeded Coyotes’ 94-88 loss to second seeded and No. 15 Sterling in a semifinal game of the Kansas Conference tournament Saturday afternoon at the Gleason Center. “We are one of the top teams in the country, we are a top 25 team (No. 24), our kids deserve a chance to go play on the biggest stage for a national title.
“You look at our body of work, you look at the games we won – I understand there were (two) forfeits, but we won those games. This team is deserving and needs a chance to go to Iowa and play against the nation’s best.”
The Coyotes (21-11) won’t know their fate until the pairings are announced next week. The tournament will be played March 6-12 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Wesleyan’s last trip to nationals was in March, 2011.
KWU’s hopes of being in the at-large discussion were in peril after three quarters Saturday. Leading 45-39 at halftime, Sterling scored 13 of the first 15 points of the third quarter and had a 75-59 advantage entering the final 10 minutes.
But the resilient and relentless Coyotes stormed back, outscoring Sterling 29-19 the fourth quarter. Sydney Mortensen (SR/Wichita, Kan.)’s 3-pointer with 1:03 left capped a 20-9 surge and narrowed the gap to 88-86. KWU got within two again, 90-88, on two Kayla Kivinski (SR/Port Richey, Fla.) free throws with 28 seconds remaining.
But Sterling hung on by making four free throws while the Coyotes missed a shot and had a turnover.
The Warriors (27-4) play top-seeded Tabor (27-3) for the tournament title Monday night at Hartman Arena in Park City.
Showman praised his squad’s resolve.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” he said. “We battled through poor shooting, we battled through runs. Hats off to Sterling. If we were going to lose it was going to take a special, special performance from that team and I thought they did that. They shot the ball well, give them credit.
“But our kids … that’s just been our thing. We battle and we fight, we’re resilient, we’re gritty, no deficit is too big. I never wanted something more a group of young women than I do for this team to be successful. However we define success at the end of the season, they deserve every bit of it.”
Kivinski led the Coyotes with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists while Lauren Flowers (FR/Overland Park, Kan.) had a career high 12 points on 5 of 5 shooting and added Amanda Hill (SO/Rossville, Kan.) 11 points. KWU shot 45 percent (32 of 71), including 10 of 34 from 3-point range, and out-rebounded Sterling 37-28.
Courtney Heinen (JR/Axtell, Kan.), the team’s second-leading scorer, didn’t play because of a foot injury suffered during Thursday’s quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Sterling shot 58.6 percent (34 of 58) and was led by Alexis Theus with 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting. Kyla Comley added 16 points, 8 assists and 5 steals, and Jessica Carrillo had 14 points. The Warriors were 23 of 30 at the foul line while Wesleyan was 14 of 16.
Sterling ended the first quarter on a 15-2 run and led 21-13 going into the second period. The Coyotes, though, made five 3-pointers and closed the first half on a 9-2 surge that narrowed the gap to six at the break.
“When we sit back and really reflect on this season and look at the individuals that put their blood, sweat and tears into this program, they’re going to know that this is the team that got us back to where we’re competing annually for conference championships,” Showman said. “I really believe that.”