PARK HILLS – A tremendous amount of trust has been instilled in Keanna Williams as the remaining true point guard on the Mineral Area women’s basketball roster.
The freshman from Ankeny, Iowa was a calming force Wednesday afternoon against an athletic Highland (Kan.) squad that consistently guarded and trapped the length of the court.
Williams committed just one turnover in 33 floor minutes, and provided nine points with five rebounds as the Lady Cardinals prevailed 69-60 for their fifth consecutive win.
“We’ve been practicing for their pressure a lot over the past week,” Williams said. “Our team chemistry is starting to come together. You can really tell on the court. We play for each other and play hard.”
Holly Forbes completed her eighth double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds for Mineral Area (12-3) despite a brief scare after limping off the court in the second quarter.
Highland (13-1) entered the contest ranked second in NJCAA Division II after placing third in the nation last season. Its 49-game regular season win streak was snapped.
Tuana Dinc posted a game-high 20 points plus six rebounds for the Scotties, who sank nine 3-pointers but could not withstand a paltry 5-of-20 effort from the line.
Mineral Area overcame 19 turnovers, and limited Highland to just 34 percent shooting from the field while helping its own cause by converting 23-of-36 free throws.
Bench production also bolstered the victory as the Lady Cardinals continued to build depth entering their crucial Region 16 opener at Three Rivers on Saturday.
Rionne Papa tallied nine points with nine rebounds. Georgia Sideri also had nine points, including a 3-pointer that created 52-43 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Highland rallied to within 59-57 after open threes dropped through for Janiya Davis and Dinc, but Papa answered with a tricky overhead scoop shot after crashing the offensive glass.
“It wasn’t a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m proud of the way our kids dug in and gutted it out,” Mineral Area head coach Gary Koch said.
“I think [our rotation] is now around eight deep now. They are starting to understand things,” he added. “I’d like to have a little more balance with our post players on defense – their stances and footwork.”
Forbes stripped and stole the ball in the backcourt for a huge layup and 64-59 edge. Two free throws by Williams stretched the margin to three possessions with 42 seconds to play.
Although clean shooting looks were difficult to obtain throughout the first half, Mineral Area utilized the ability of Forbes to overpower single defenders with her back to the basket.
Forbes opened the second period with a powerful move along the low block for a 13-12 lead, but missed about four minutes of action after tweaking either her right knee or ankle.
Sideri drilled a corner 3-pointer in her absence, however, and Natalia Lalic threw an entry pass to Caitlyn Holmes for a conventional 3-point play.
The Scotties generated a couple of easy transition baskets, but otherwise struggled to solve the Mineral Area defense while trailing 27-23 at halftime.
“We knew they would put a lot of pressure on us defensively, and that we might be able to attack the back side of it right away,” Koch said. “But you have to finish. We worked on the 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations, but we still missed a ton of them.”
The Lady Cardinals never trailed after intermission. Holmes totaled eight points with six rebounds, and drove from end to end for a made fast-break layup early in the third quarter.
Dinc kept the Highland hopes afloat with 18 second-half points, and trimmed the deficit to 33-32 by connecting from long range.
She was answered by matching Mineral Area 3-point plays as Williams first assisted Papa before hitting her own driving shot through contact.
“I think Keanna stepped up tremendously today. She has been coming along, really since before the last semester ended,” Koch said. “She knows that we have to rely on her.”
Lalic drilled a 16-footer while being pushed in the back, and her ensuing free throw brought the largest lead of the contest at 49-38.
Stefania Chiziane and Davis each scored 13 points for the Scotties, whose active perimeter pressure held Mineral Area to 2-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.