By Ken McDowell
The Northeastern Junior College (NJC) Plainswomen fell short of knocking off the ninth-ranked Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC) Lady Cougars Friday in the Bank of Colorado Event Center, losing by an 85-77 score.
NJC falls to 7-8 overall and 0-1 in Region IX South while WNCC improves to 16-1 overall and 1-0 in the South.
Western Nebraska tried to pull away from NJC several times during the contest but the Plainswomen always stayed within striking distance.
NJC did take an early 3-0 advantage on a free throw by sophomore Aleksandra Ratnikava and a layup by freshman Jasmine Monroe-Shivers, but that was the only lead the Plainswomen would enjoy the entire game.
Western Nebraska was on fire from three-point range in the opening period by canning seven treys to take a 31-20 lead going into the second quarter.
Freshman guard Taylor Williams of the Plainswomen hit a trey in the opening period to help NJC stay close and Ratnikava added five points in the first 10 minutes.
Ratnikava opened the second quarter with a trey and moments later freshman Brionna McBride also connected from three-point land but WNCC went back up by nine points two more times.
With the Lady Cougars leading 39-30 McBride netted back-to-back hoops to close the gap to five points. Even though NJC did not allow a three-pointer by the Lady Cougars in the second quarter, WNCC still led 45-36 at halftime.
Monroe-Shivers opened the third period with a trey and consecutive baskets by freshman center JaQuirrea Jenkins once again pulled NJC within three points at 50-47.
But WNCC connected four times from behind the arc, including a bank shot at the horn, to go ahead by 10 points at 65-55 heading into the final frame.
The closest the Plainswomen could get in the fourth quarter was four points before Western Nebraska pulled away in the final minutes for the victory.
Western Nebraska finished 12-for-26 from three-point range for 46%.
NJC placed three players in double figures, led by Ratnikava with 18 points, McBride 13 and freshman Taelor Jackson 11.
NJC Coach Dave Huss was proud of the effort his young team gave against the ninth-ranked team in the nation.
"We played hard and we battled the whole game," he said. "We did a lot of good things and we made shots, which kept us in the game.
"We got down several times and came back, so I give credit to our kids for playing hard. I can't be upset with the way we played against Western Nebraska. That was best we have played against them in three years, so hopefully we can use this to turn the corner."
After giving up seven treys in the opening quarter, Huss said he changed his team's defense.
"We kind of made Western Nebraska play on their heels a little bit more and our zone helped a lot," he said. "We got a few stops but they are a little more quicker than we are and they made some key shots.
"I know it's frustrating to lose but at the same time we can take this effort and turn the corner."
Huss pointed out that his squad has played some tough teams this year, also losing to 18th-ranked Casper, Wyo., Community College twice.
"We're 7-8 but have played some good teams this year," he said. "We lost to Casper twice, lost to Western Nebraska and others, so we're not afraid to play anybody.
"But I'm hoping a game like this gets our girls to understand how we can play and how we should play. I also thought our two post players from Texas - Mutshatshi and Jenkins - played hard and got some good rebounds.
"They helped us out towards the end of the game. I also thought some kids came off the bench and played well. It's nice to have some depth to give our other kids some rest and to be able to play ten kids for a change."
NJC will travel to North Platte, Neb. Community College Tuesday and to McCook, Neb. Community College Thursday before returning home Fri., Jan. 24 against Lamar Community College.