No. 1 Kirkwood books spot in national tournament with 90-61 win over NIACC

Eagles pull away with huge second half to win Region XI tournament

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CEDAR RAPIDS — During Kirkwood’s first two games of the NJCAA Region XI tournament, head women’s basketball coach Kim Muhl wasn’t happy with the play of his bench.

He got 17 points from his subs in the quarterfinals against Ellsworth and they tallied 16 in the semifinals versus Southwestern, but it was not the type of effort the coach was looking for. It was a different story against NIACC in the championship of the Region XI women’s tournament.

With a trip to the national tournament on the line, the bench produced, scoring 23 points and providing long stretches of good defense. Most important for Muhl, the effort was there.

“Accountability and pride,” Muhl said. “They came in and showed it, especially during the second quarter. It was great to see.”

Megan Axcell, Niaja Taylor and TiRayah Cotton combined for 17 of the 23 points off the bench and were huge as several starters got into early foul trouble.

After a tight first half, it seemed like NIACC (19-13) was going to be able to push Kirkwood (33-0) to the end. However, every time the Trojans tried to make a run, the Eagles kept pushing the lead back up. It helps, of course, that Kirkwood shot a scorching 63 percent from the field in the first half.

But NIACC just wouldn’t go away through the first two quarters and hot outside shooting was a huge part of its success. The Trojans hit 10 of 21 triples in the first half and weren’t afraid to launch them from several feet behind the arc.

The long rebounds from some of the Trojan misses, however, did lead to easy transition baskets for the Eagles. Getting into the paint was once again a critical part of the attack and the Kirkwood players weren’t afraid to finish through contact.

Along with three converted old-fashioned three-point plays, the quick baskets were a big part of the 48-44 Kirkwood lead at the half.

“It was a battle out there, we went back and forth a lot,” forward Simone Goods said. “But we just had to stay content with what we do, which is play defense.”

NIACC shot 4-for-27 from the field in the second half as the suffocating Kirkwood defense claimed another victim. The Trojans only scored four points during the third quarter and 17 for the half.

In the same span, Kirkwood put up 42, turning a close game into a blowout.

Sophomore guard Deleyah Harris led the way for the Eagles with 21 points, while tournament MVP Goods had 18 points and seven rebounds. Shaneequah Watkins and Tayana Wilson were also in double figures for Kirkwood, scoring 14 and 10 points, respectively.

The NJCAA Division II National Tournament begins March 21 in Harrison, Ark.

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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