SALINA — Giving a name to the the athletic rivalry between Bethany College and Kansas Wesleyan University had been a hope that it might change the fortunes of the Swede women when they made their annual trip to Salina.
Calling the games between the Coyotes and Swedes the First Bank Kansas Smoky Hill Showdown however did nothing to alter Wesleyan’s domination on their home court as they held Bethany off for a 76-71 KCAC win Saturday night in Mabee Arena.
Wesleyan has won 20 of the last 24 games between the schools, including 12 consecutive wins over the Swedes at home. The Coyotes have never lost to Bethany in Mabee Arena.
The win improves KWU to 2-0 in the young conference season, 4-4 overall. The Swedes drop to 1-1 in conference action, 4-4 overall.
The Coyotes came out from the opening tip and jumped on the Swedes for a 9-0 lead. Maddie Miller worked the paint for three baskets and Haleigh Bradford drained a long 3-pointer in the first three minutes of play.
“It was my teammates,” said Miller. “They were reading the help side really well and giving me good dishes.
“We watched the JV game and we knew they were going to draw that help side and leave the post open and we just focused on that the whole game.”
“We struggled on Wednesday,” said Wesleyan coach Ryan Showman, “and I challenged them to get out to a good start. Let’s get the crowd into it, let’s get some energy built and put them on their heels a little bit.”
Once the Coyotes were on the inside rail, Bethany struggled to get anything going. The Swedes fell behind by as much as 18 points, 31-13, with 4:18 left in the second period.
It wasn’t just an aggressive Wesleyan defense that enabled the Coyotes to extend to that lead. The Swedes found the range on only 5-of-15 free throw opportunities. Bethany finished the game with 44 trips to the foul line on 31 Coyote fouls, but converted only 23 (52.3 percent).
“That stings a little bit when you go 23 for 44 and the kids you want shooting free throws were the ones shooting free throws,” said Bethany coach Keith Ferguson. “We’ve got to be more focused than that and we can’t get out-rebounded (48-45) and have the start we did.
“But the free throws were the part that just killed us.”
Wesleyan stayed in a double-digit comfort zone through most of the third period after leading 34-22 at the half. But fouls were starting to mount, forcing Showman to extend well down his bench.
That did give Bethany the chance to chip away at the Coyote lead. With 4:15 left in the third, Sarah Bartel got the roll on a drive and an additional free throw cut the Swede deficit into single figures for the first time since the first quarter, 50-42.
It was still an eight-point difference, 58-50, when the final period got underway and Lauren Welsch converted a three-point play two minutes in that pulled Bethany within five, 58-53.
That’s when Showman’s faith in his bench paid off. Courtney Heinen nailed a 3-pointer and two free throws around another Miller field goal, extending Wesleyan’s lead back to 12.
“Before she hit that (first) three in the fourth quarter,” Showman said, “I looked at her and told ‘it’s time you go in and make a shot’. No sooner was she in the game 30 seconds, she knocked one down.”
″(Showman) came up to me on the bench and he’s like ‘Go in and make your shots’ and that’s what I did. I went in and did what he told me to do,” Heinen said.
Bethany still had one more push left. A 7-0 run by Marissa Pope and Bartel trimmed the deficit to five once more, 70-65, with 1:53 to go. The Coyotes were milking the shot clock with just under a minute to go when Mariah Knox drained a final 3 with just two ticks ahead of a violation that pretty much locked the game away.
Bradford led the Coyotes with 16 points, Miller finished with 15, Knox with 13 and Heinen 11.
Pope paced Bethany with 17, Welsch scored 15 and Alex Tyson scored 14.