SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Nothing seemed to be going right for the No. 2-seeded Hastings College women’s basketball team in the first half Wednesday against No. 7 seed Union (Ky.) at the NAIA national tournament.
The Broncos fell behind 34-32 at half after an 11-of-37 shooting effort in the first 20 minutes. Hastings didn’t make a field goal during a five-minute stretch midway through the first half, and missed four shots on two separate offensive trips down the floor.
That trend quickly changed for the better at the beginning of the second half, as NAIA No. 7 Hastings (27-5) opened on a 17-5 tear en route to its seventh-straight first-round victory, 79-64, over the Bulldogs (24-9) at the Tyson Events Center.
“In the first half, we were just nervous and had those jitters. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. But in the second half, we settled in a little bit,” said Carrie Hofstetter, who picked up her first win at the national tournament as Hastings’ head coach. “I thought our kids played better. Offensively, we were able to hit shots when we wanted to.”
The Broncos put a staple on the game with an additional 13-0 spurt midway through the second half, lifting them to a second-round matchup with No. 3-seeded Indiana Wesleyan (27-7) that’s set for Friday at 7 p.m.
The first half offensive performance mirrored the effort Hastings had in its last game out against Morningside in the GPAC semifinals. In that contest, Hastings didn’t even get on the board for the first nine minutes of the game.
Instead of letting those shooting woes fester like it did against the Mustangs, Hastings found better shots from the floor and got into a rhythm instead against the Bulldogs. In the second half alone, Hastings hit 19-of-32 field goals for a 60 percent average.
“That was the concern. I think our kids were thinking ‘Oh no, not this again.’ But in the second half we came out and hit some shots and I think that just kind of gave us relief,” Hofstetter said. “The first half was a struggle because we were taking tougher shots than what we needed to. The second half, we adjusted and hit better shots.”
Cami Bruckman was a force for the Broncos, tallying a team-high 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“We knew coming out that we hadn’t played a game in awhile, so we just had to get those jitters out,” Bruckman said. “Obviously, our shots weren’t falling, but we knew, at some point, they were going to go in. We knew we just had to keep shooting and keep our defense straight up. We were missing our threes and our bunnies, but I think now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, we’ll keep it going now.”
Jamie Van Kirk hit four 3-pointers for 16 points, while Laurel Zwiener was on fire from mid-range for 10 points.
The offensive highlight for Hastings College, though, was the play of Frankie Petersen. She provided a career-high 17 points after coming into the tournament averaging just more than five points per contest.
“Obviously, when you look at our stats, you see just three big numbers. So we’ve talked a lot recently about our other kids stepping up and being threats on the floor,” Hofstetter said, referring to the Broncos’ three leading scorers all season in Van Kirk, Bruckman and Zwiener. “We have a lot of kids who can be threats on the floor — Abby Jackson, Shanelle Farmer, Frankie Petersen, you go down the line — they can all score. That’s something that we stressed and emphasized. Everyone has to be a threat, and Frankie was tonight.”
Union’s point guard, Amber Taylor, was a headache for Bronco defenders during the first half when she poured in 16 of the Bulldogs’ 34 points.
She effectively executed the dribble-drive on numerous occasions, including a span where she completed a personal 8-1 run to give her side a 21-16 advantage with 9:34 left in the first half.
But thanks to a few defensive adjustments in the second half, Taylor became a non-factor. She did manage to add 10 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 26, but Taylor didn’t get her first field goal until less than eight minutes remained in the game.
“(Taylor’s) a really good player. We knew she was going to spin, so we just had to stay low and play solid defense on her,” said Jackson, who was responsible for guarding Union’s go-to player most of the contest.
“Honestly, our guards made an adjustment in putting their bodies in better spots to make sure (Taylor) couldn’t have what she wanted,” Hofstetter said. “When you’re playing against an opponent you’re not familiar with, sometimes it takes a little time to figure them out and how they want to get their shots.”
Alyson Roberts also finished in double figures for Union with 12 points, all off 3-pointers.
Hastings’ defense forced 11 steals, led by four from Bruckman. In the paint, Zwiener tallied seven blocks, including three-straight on one Union offensive possession.
“The second half, we just played better defense with our feet,” Jackson said. “We stopped fouling as much and we pretty much just contained Taylor.”
“We had some really good steals,” Bruckman said. “As long as we were keeping our defense going and getting stops, as well as getting points on the other end, we were going to make big runs.”
The Broncos’ next foe are the defending national champions. Friday’s meeting will be the first between the two schools since 2007 when Indiana Wesleyan beat Hastings 61-52 in the national quarterfinals.
One benefit of playing a first-round game Wednesday is it gives Hastings College a day off to prepare for the next game and maybe enjoy the town a little, too.
But Hofstetter said that her team won’t lose any focus on what its trying to accomplish on this trip.
“We’ll practice and come watch some games,” the coach said. “We’ll try to rest some, but honestly, it’s one of those things that you’re at the national tournament and the focus is pretty obvious. The kids are locked in and they’re excited, so I don’t think it will be a challenge.”
— Hastings had a good contingent of fans at the Tyson Events Center, most notably former college president Phil Dudley and former women’s basketball coach Ken Rhodus.
— No. 2-seed Concordia was upset in the first round by No. 7-seed Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) 91-86, leaving Hastings, Morningside and Northwestern as the only teams still alive from the GPAC conference. Morningside and Northwestern didn’t play Wednesday.
— Hastings’ win ups the program’s record to 31-10 all time at the national tournament.
— Hastings is 12-2 all-time in the first round, its last loss coming in 2005 against St. Francis (Ind.).
— Union fell to 0-5 all-time at the national tournament, but the 15-point loss to Hastings was its closest final point spread in all five games.
Frankie Petersen 7-12 3-3 17, Laurel Zwiener 4-9 2-3 10, Cami Bruckman 8-18 5-8 22, Abby Jackson 3-8 0-0 7, Jamie Van Kirk 5-11 2-3 16, Autumn Zenon 1-2 0-0 2, Shanelle Farmer 1-3 1-2 3, Chelsey Morten 0-1 0-0 0, Halley Samuelson 1-3 0-0 2, Alex Edwards 0-1 0-0 0, Sierra Williamson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 30-69 13-19 79.
Amber Taylor 9-18 7-7 26, Marah Rice 1-6 1-2 3, Alyson Roberts 4-8 0-0 12, Haley Perkins 0-6 3-4 3, Lydia Nash 2-10 3-3 7, Reagan King 1-4 0-0 3, Jennifer Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Brock 1-1 0-0 2, Adreana Jefferson 2-2 4-4 8. Totals: 20-57 18-20 64.
Halftime score — Union 34, Hastings 32. Three-point field goals — HC 6-26 (Petersen 0-2, Bruckman 1-6, Jackson 1-3, Van Kirk 4-9, Zenon 0-1, Farmer 0-2, Morten 0-1, Samuelson 0-1, Edwards 0-1), UN 6-15 (Taylor 1-3, Rice 0-1, Roberts 4-5, Perkins 0-3, King 1-3). Rebounds — HC 45 (Bruckman 12), UN 35 (Nash 7). Assists — HC 17 (Zwiener 6), UN 6 (Taylor 4). Steals — HC 11 (Bruckman 4), UN 3 (Taylor 2). Blocks — HC 9 (Zwiener 7), UN 3 (Thomas 2). Turnovers — HC 13, UN 16. Personal fouls — HC 19, UN 18. Techincals — none. Fouled out — HC, Williamson; UN, Perkins.