Huge Second Half Propels KWU Women to KCAC Semifinals

Kansas Wesleyan women’s coach Ryan Showman had a feeling Kayla Kivinski (SR/Port Richey, Fla.) was going to play well.

Showman told Kivinski before practice Wednesday the senior forward needed to play well in the Coyotes’ Kansas Conference tournament quarterfinal game against Oklahoma Wesleyan.

“I told her it’s time for you to play like a First Team All-Conference player,” Showman said of their conversation. “She texted me (Thursday) morning – I didn’t say anything to her, she just sent me a random text – and she goes ‘Coach, I’m ready to play tonight.’

“I was like ‘I haven’t gotten a text like that in 30 games,’ I said ‘this could be special.'”

And special it was.

Kivinski scored a career-high 27 points – 17 the second half – as KWU rolled to an 85-74 victory Thursday night at Mabee Arena.

The third-seeded Coyotes’ 21st win (21-10) sends them into the semifinals and a game against second-seeded Sterling at 2 p.m. Saturday, at the Gleason Center in Sterling. Game time was moved up from 7 p.m. because of weather concerns.

Sterling (26-4) outlasted No. 7 Friends 73-64 Thursday night in Sterling. The Coyotes and Warriors split during the regular season, each winning at home.

Tabor and Bethany will play in the other semifinal Saturday in Hillsboro. Semifinal winners will play for the championship at 8 p.m. Monday at Hartman Arena in Park City for a berth in the NAIA Division II National Championship next month.

Thursday’s contest was a tale of two halves. KWU shot just 21 percent (8 of 38) the first half, but trailed only 28-26 at halftime as OKWU shot 36 percent (9 of 25).

The second half was an entirely different story. Wesleyan came out blazing, scoring 33 points in the third quarter while making six 3-pointers after going 4 of 16 beyond the arc the first half. Kivinski had 10 points as the Coyotes took a 58-54 lead into the final period.

OKWU (18-12) trimmed the deficit to 59-58 by scoring the first four points of the fourth quarter, but Wesleyan pulled away with a decisive 15-2 run that made it 74-60 with five minutes left.

The Eagles got no closer than 10 the rest of the way.

“We’re versatile,” Showman said. “We can defend a little bit, we can score points, but we didn’t really do them at the same time. I thought that third quarter was about as explosive as we’ve been offensively.”

Kivinski, who was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year along with the First Team designation on Wednesday, was 8 of 13 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 7 of 7 from the free throw line. She also had four assists, three rebounds and two steals.

“I thought Kayla K. was just absolutely dynamite tonight,” Showman said.

Wesleyan shot a scorching 61.3 percent the second half (19 of 31), including 9 of 15 from long range (60 percent). Showman said he didn’t change anything at halftime, but did issue a simple challenge to his players.

“My message at halftime was very, very simple,” he said. “‘You’re going to get good looks (at the basket). If you want to win this game you’ve got to step up and finish.

“Coach (Carolyn) Davis and I didn’t think they were doing anything that we hadn’t seen on film and didn’t prepare for the last three days. It was a matter of us getting into the flow of the game and getting some shots.”

Amanda Hill (SO/Rossville, Kan.) scored 13 points off the bench and Haleigh Bradford (JR/Schertz, Texas) had 11 for the Coyotes, who forced 15 turnovers and had nine themselves. Wesleyan’s bench players scored 30 points while OKWU’s reserves had eight. Virja Lewis (SO/Kansas City, Kan.) grabbed 10 rebounds for KWU as each team finished 37 with rebounds.

The Coyotes played without second-leading scorer Courtney Heinen (JR/Axtell, Kan.), who suffered an injury with 1:11 left in the first quarter and didn’t return.

Oklahoma Wesleyan shot 42 percent for the game (22 of 52), was 7 of 19 beyond the arc and 23 of 28 at the foul line. Coley Ickes led the Eagles with 18 points, all in the second half, while Makayla Melton had 17 and Danae Goodwin 13.

“With a team like that, if you don’t score baskets they have a chance,” Showman said. “Every time we’d get a five- to seven-point lead, boom, boom, boom they came right back. They’re just as explosive, we just had that last long run in the fourth quarter that gave us the space we needed.”

In the end, Showman said the Coyotes weren’t ready for their season to end.

“We may lose at some point, it may end at some point – it always does,” he said. “But it was not going to be tonight.”