Garden City at Seward County-pregame 5:45 p.m.; 6 p.m tip…men at 8 p.m. on AM 1030 KBUF; westernkansasnews.com/kbuf; kbufmobile.com and on the tuneinradio app: KBUF
Liberal, Kan (westernkansasnews.com)-If Monday night was any indication, Brady Trenkle’s Busters are ready for any challenge.
48 hours after they knocked off No. 12 Hutch, Garden City is back on the road Wednesday night for a pivotal-conference showdown against first-place Seward County.
“He (Brian Zollinger) is one of the best coaches in the country,” Trenkle said. “They’ve got a lot clicking for them right now. But it’s not a situation that we haven’t seen before.
It was just 32 days ago when Seward guard Malcolm Hill-Bey had the game of his life-scoring a season-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
“Kid had a career game against us,” Trenkle said. “We didn’t expect that.”
Since then, the Saints have added to their already impressive resume-reeling off two wins over No. 12 Hutch over the last month-setting the table for a fourth straight league championship.
But Garden City (19-6, 5-4) will have plenty to say about that. The Busters enter play Wednesday in fifth place in the Jayhawk West. But only a game separates them from the second-place Dragons.
And an interesting sidebar for you: Garden City’s six losses are by a combined 29 points. It’s scary to think that this team could be sitting at 25-0, but the truth is, they’ve had a chance to win every game.
Trailing by 17 at Hutch back on January 15, Garden City used a furious rally to pull within two, only to see June Johnson’s potential-go-ahead 3-pointer clank off the rim. And don’t forget that Jade Cathy went 2-of-9 from the free throw line; two variables that could have easily turned the tide in that one.
Against Cloud County, the Busters found themselves down by double digits in the second half only to see Reuben King drill a game-tying three in the waning seconds to force overtime. Did anyone see the T-Birds shooting 14 free throws in the extra session?
Then there was Barton, a game where Garden City struggled for 39 minutes plus before finally taking the lead on Jade Cathy’s tap back with under 10 seconds to play. Did anyone expect the officials to call Jalen Variste for a hand check foul with 5 seconds left?
But don’t be mistaken, Trenkle doesn’t bank on moral victories.
The last time the Busters saw Toby Wynn’s club, they were leading 12-0 with just over 16 minutes to play in the first half. Then Shaqunna Collins picked up her second foul, and the complexity of the entire game changed.
“We played as well as we’ve played all year in stretches in that game,” Garden City Coach Nick Salazar said. “But we didn’t maintain it.”
The Busters blew an early-double-digit lead only to watch the game swing by 24 points in a 71-59 defeat on January 15. But it all served as a turning point.
Since that point, the Busters have reeled off five wins in their last eight games, and they had their chances against No. Hutch on Monday.
Down by as many as 16 on two separate occasions, the Busters pulled to within four early in the second half. Then when the Lady Dragons build the lead back up to 15, they once again cut it to single digits with under three to play. But 21 turnovers and missed free throws (eight of them), sent Salazar’s bunch packing with their second loss of the year one of the nation’s top teams.
Well the schedule doesn’t get any easier Wednesday as the Busters enter one of the loudest buildings in the conference. The Green House can be unforgiving; just ask three decades worth of Buster coach’s who’ve struggled to get W’s there. Garden City only has one win in that building in the last 23 years-it was last year’s 25-point shocker that ended the streak.
The Lady Saints hope the resurgence of Alana Simon will help tame Collins. The freshman guard was consistently beat off the dribble in the first meeting. But she’s scored in double figures in five games since, and her defense is much improved.