DODGE CITY, KANSAS – Butler head coach Mike Helmer has been around the block. He knew what to expect when facing the Neosho County Lady Panthers: A lot of threes.
"We focused hard on that," Helmer said. "Our girls are so used to our traditional defense it bit us a bit in the first quarter, but they locked in and they followed the scouting reporting; our girls defended well."
Neosho kept firing from beyond the arc but the top-seeded Butler Grizzlies never blinked as the Grizzlies beat Neosho County 88-53 to advance in the Region VI Tournament.
The Grizzlies held the Lady Panthers to only 7-of-44 from beyond the three-point line. Neosho County was only 3-of-33 after the first quarter.
Butler held the Lady Panthers to only 15.7 percent shooting on the afternoon. It is Neosho’s second worst shooting performance of the season.
Butler improves to 23-8 on the season and now have won 17 consecutive games against Neosho County dating back to Nov. 2009.
Neosho bounced back by hitting four threes in the first quarter. As Butler went up 7-1 on a three by UNC-Wilmington commit, Camille Downs, the Lady Panthers followed it up with a bunch of threes on their own.
Morgan Bolen hit back-to-back threes to tie the game at 7-all with 7:47 remaining in the first. Jessica Jones chipped in one herself and Chrissy Brown tied the game at 16-all with one to tie it at 16-all with 1:37 remaining in the first.
That’s when the Grizzlies vaunted defense locked down. They knew Neosho was going to fire from beyond the arc and they blocked out and ran shooters off the three-point line. They watched as Neosho missed their last 12 three-point shots. Nine of the 12 were one-and-done possessions.
"I thought we did a good job of handling what they do offensively," Helmer said. "We’re fortunately missed shots they don’t normally miss."
While the Lady Panthers were missing shots, Butler was capitalizing. They went on a 10-2 run at the end of the first and into the second periods. The extended run reached 24-6 before free throws by Neosho ended the run.
By the time the dust had settled, Butler had a 20-point lead and Neosho was panicking on the offensive end and fouling shooters on the other end.
The Grizzlies led 42-29 at the break.
It was more of the same as Butler’s defense was hounding. They forced turnovers and used their speed into transition. Downs had seven of the 12 points to start the half.
"I was trying being a dog," Downs said. "Trying to be a dog and help them the best way I can."
Butler held Neosho without a three, the Lady Panthers main weapon, for almost two full quarters and during that time Butler attacked. They pushed their lead tout to as many as 36 before Butler called off the starters.
Downs finished with 17 points of 7-of-17 shooting. She also had six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Tamara Nard, who had 33 points in her last appearance against Neosho had 22 points and nine rebounds to go with her three blocks.
"These two are monsters," Helmers said. "They are big time players who play in big time games."
Butler advances to the semifinals for the second straight season after four consecutive seasons of quarterfinal exits.
Butler will face the winner of the No. 4 Seward (24-6)/No. 12 Colby (19-12) on Monday, March 2 at 3 p.m. The winner of that one will move onto the Region VI Championship on Tuesday. Butler and Seward met in the Championship Game last season, with Butler coming out victorious.
"We’re going to let them enjoy it for 45 minutes to an hour," Helmer said. "If it’s on the moon, we’ll play. We just want a chance."