STERLING – The Kansas Wesleyan women gave No. 21 Sterling fits the first 25 minutes of their game Saturday night.
The final 15 minutes were a different matter, though.
Sterling erased a five-point, third-quarter deficit with a 26-5 surge that continued deep into the fourth quarter and resulted in a 76-66 Kansas Conference victory inside the Gleason Center.
The loss ended KWU’s six-game winning streak and dropped the Coyotes to 17-9 overall, 15-5 in the KCAC. Sterling (22-4, 19-1) won its 12th consecutive game, clinched the regular season conference title and a berth in next month’s NAIA National Championships.
“I thought we played well enough to win for almost three quarters but on the road against a really good, experienced team you’ve got to play a full 40 minutes and we just weren’t able to do that tonight,” KWU coach Ryan Showman said on his postgame radio show.
The primary culprits were turnovers (22) and fouls that resulted in 23 made free throws for Sterling compared to nine for the Coyotes.
A flurry of turnovers allowed the Warriors to take a 9-1 lead at the start but the Coyotes settled down in the second quarter. Trailing 21-12 they outscored the Sterling 25-11 the rest of the half and led 37-32 at the break.
Wesleyan committed six turnovers the first quarter but had only two the second.
The trend continued early in the third quarter. Jill Stephens (SO/Colby, Kan.)’ fourth 3-pointer of the game gave the Coyotes a 48-41 lead with 5:39 left in the quarter but they didn’t score again until Megan Foote (SO/Louisburg, Kan.) made a 3-pointer with 2:11 left in the period. KWU turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions and missed two shots during that span.
The long run gave the Warriors a 67-53 lead with 4½ minutes left in the game and was fueled by their half-court defensive pressure.
“We had some silly turnovers, the ball kind of got stuck on some sides,” Showman said. “They’re going to stick with it if it’s working and it really slowed us down and it gave them more opportunities. I thought we did a good job up until that point.”
KWU got as close as eight twice the final 3½ minutes.
The Coyotes shot 42 percent (23-55) including 11 of 26 from 3-point range. The 22 turnovers, though, led to 21 Sterling points while KWU scored 10 off of 14 Sterling turnovers.
The Warriors shot 47 percent (26 of 55), just 1 of 9 from deep but cashed in on 23 of 25 free throws; the Coyotes were 9 of 10 at the foul line. KWU was whistled for 21 fouls and Sterling 10.
Stephens led Wesleyan with 15 on five 3-pointers. LaMyah Ricks (JR/Shawnee Mission, Kan.) had 11 points and a team-best nine rebounds and Caila Hill (SR/Rossville, Kan.) and Tylieea Wallace (SO/Overland Park, Kan.) scored 10 apiece. Wallace also had six rebounds.
Taya Wilson led Sterling with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
The Coyotes end the regular season with two home games next week starting with Tabor at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Mabee Arena followed by York at 6 p.m. Saturday. The KCAC Tournament begins February 23 at campus sites.