STERLING – Playing Kansas Conference preseason favorite Sterling in its conference and home opener figured to be a difficult challenge for the Kansas Wesleyan women’s basketball team.
The Warriors lived up to their billing and remained unbeaten with a 91-80 victory Tuesday night at the Gleason Center.
KWU coach Ryan Showman, though, was far from disappointed with his team’s performance given the circumstances.
“I told them be disappointed, be upset with the loss absolutely – we’re competitors,” he said on his postgame radio show. “But this is a game that we can build off of, this is a game where a lot of young girls who are still kind of finding their way and getting experience arrived.”
KWU (3-3 overall, 2-1 KCAC) scored the first five points of the game, but a 13-0 Sterling run forced the Coyotes to play catch-up the rest of the game. They trailed 44-27 at halftime, were down 19 twice in the third quarter and again early in the fourth quarter.
But they battled back each time and got as close as eight points twice down the stretch.
“We kept fighting back and that’s probably the biggest thing I’m proud of – the fight, the resiliency,” Showman said. “I’m so proud of my team and how we fought tonight.”
Foul trouble for the Coyotes played a key role. Kelcey Hinz (JR/Whitewater, Kan.), KWU’s All-America post player, picked up two fouls in the first 4:14 of the game and spent most of the rest of the half on the bench. Leading scorer Amanda Hill (SR/Rossville, Kan.) got her second foul in the second quarter and also had to sit.
Sterling (5-0 overall, 1-0 KCAC) took advantage of their absences.
A 13-2 Wesleyan run cut the deficit to 27-25 midway through the second quarter, but Sterling responded with a decisive 17-2 surge the rest of the half – much of it coming with Hinz and Hill on the bench.
“We were in some foul trouble and subbed some people and that’s when Sterling went on a run,” Showman said. “But some of the breakdowns were so correctable. It was just one of those things where we just put ourselves in a bad position going into halftime.
“We dug ourselves a hole and when you get a hole against a team like this on their home floor it’s tough. … That was difficult to come back from.”
Trailing 82-64 with 5 minutes left KWU made its last charge. A 12-2 run made it 84-76 with 2:20 left and the Coyotes got within eight again, 86-78, on Gabby Mureeba (SO/Allen, Texas)’s basket with 1:02 remaining before Sterling closed it out.
Mureeba led the way with a career-high 20 points (14 in the second half) on 9 of 15 shooting and also had six assists and three rebounds. Hill finished with 17 points while Hinz and LaMyah Ricks (FR/Shawnee Mission, Kan.) scored 13 apiece. Hinz had eight rebounds and Ricks had three rebounds and two assists.
Showman was especially pleased with the play of the youngsters Mureeba and Ricks.
“She just plays, not like a freshman,” Showman said of Ricks. “We saw that in the preseason, we saw that in the first couple of games. I figured this would be the test to see where she is developmental-wise and boy, she answered that challenge.
“Gabby hit big shot after big shot. At a time when people are going to key on Kelcey – they had three people around her in the paint – and make things difficult for Amanda, Gabby hit shots to take some of that pressure off.”
KWU shot 46.5 percent from the field (33 of 71), including 8 of 19 from beyond the arc, but lost the rebounding battle 42-32 and committed 17 turnovers that led to 26 Sterling points.
The Warriors shot 47.8 percent (32 of 67) and were 10 of 21 from deep. Bailey Bangert led five Sterling players in double figures with 24 points and Taya Wilson had 18.
The Coyotes are scheduled to play McPherson at 7 p.m. Friday inside Mabee Arena in their next game. The men’s game has been postponed because of COVID-19 related issues.
McPherson remained unbeaten (4-0) Tuesday with a 79-67 KCAC victory over Oklahoma Wesleyan in McPherson. Brittany Roberts led the Bulldogs with 32 points and 15 rebounds.