Small College Sports

Second-ranked Kirkwood women's basketball rounding into form after win over No. 7 NIACC

Tayana Wilson leads defending national champions to wins in 14 of 15 games

Kirkwood’s Tayana Wilson goes to the hoop during the first quarter of their NJCAA Regional game against the Southwestern Spartans in Johnson Hall at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Kirkwood’s Tayana Wilson goes to the hoop during the first quarter of their NJCAA Regional game against the Southwestern Spartans in Johnson Hall at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After a couple of narrow early losses, the Kirkwood women’s basketball team is back on an uptick.

Sophomore Tayana Wilson posted 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists as the second-ranked Eagles won their sixth game in a row, 68-59, against No. 7 NIACC in an NJCAA game Wednesday at Johnson Hall.

“It went very well,” Wilson said. “We just needed that extra push to go head to head. I just knew that we were going to pick it up and come back in the end.”

Kirkwood (16-3, 2-0 ICCAC) led by as many as 11 points on three occasions in the first half, but NIACC climbed back to a 56-56 tie with 5:31 to go thanks to 13 3-pointers.

From that point, the Eagles closed with 12 of 15 points.

“They guarded much better than I thought they would,” Kirkwood Coach Kim Muhl said. “That’s the type of game they play. I thought the tempo was better for us. I thought if we could be in the 60’s, we’d be okay. If we got up in the 70’s, they are going to beat us.”

A couple of former area preps — Arika Wooldridge (Center Point-Urbana) and Olivia Usher (Cedar Rapids Prairie) — each scored four of Kirkwood’s final 12 points and finished the game with nine points apiece. 6-foot-1 freshman post Leah Robinson added eight points, while sophomore guard Megan Axcell tallied a team-high nine rebounds and three steals.

Usher and Wilson are the two returning starters from last season’s undefeated (37-0) national-championship team. With 14 wins in the last 15 games, Wilson insists the potential for a repeat is clear.

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“Honestly, I feel like this team this year is better than the team last year,” said Wilson, who converted all 10 of her free-throw attempts. “This year, we have the whole team contributing. We don’t just have two players that can do it on their own.”

Cici Kieger led NIACC (14-4, 1-1) with 16 points off the bench.

Kirkwood visits Iowa Lakes on Saturday, then travels to another ranked foe in No. 15 Southeastern on Jan. 24.

AT JOHNSON HALL

No. 2 Kirkwood 68, No. 7 NIACC 59

NIACC (59): Taylor Laabs 4 0-2 10, UU Longs 4 0-0 10, Khalilah Holloway 1 0-3 2, Kelsie Willert 1 0-0 3, Kenlie Pytleski 2 0-0 5, Cici Kieger 5 2-2 16, Mikayla Homola 3 3-4 12, Jordan Prantner 0 0-0 0, Laker Ward 0 1-2 1, Morgan Frank 0 0-0 0, Totals 20 6-13 59.

KIRKWOOD (68): Tayana Wilson 3 10-10 16, Christmas Puok 1 0-0 2, Megan Axcell 1 0-0 2, Awal Ajak 3 0-2 6, Olivia Usher 3 2-2 9, Mackenzie Jenkins 2 0-2 5, Anasha Hurst 0 3-4 3, Niaja Taylor 1 0-0 2, Leah Robinson 4 0-0 8, Brianna Mensen 2 1-2 6, Tinee’sha Coleman 0 0-0 0, Arika Wooldridge 4 1-1 9, Totals 24 17-23 68.

NIACC 13 18 13 15—59

Kirkwood 18 18 16 16—68

Halftime — Kirkwood, 36-31. Three-point goals — NIACC 13 (Kieger 4, Homola 3, Laabs 2, Longs 2, Wilert 1, Pytleski 1), Kirkwood 3 (Usher 1, Mensen 1, Jenkins 1). Rebounds — NIACC 41 (Holloway 16), Kirkwood 51 (Axcell 9). Assists — NIACC 11 (Laabs 5), Kirkwood 16 (Wilson 5). Turnovers — NIACC 14, Kirkwood 17. Total fouls — NIACC 16, Kirkwood 17. Fouled out — None.

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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