Butler women bounce back from first loss with a tight victory over Cloud County

Lionel Tipton
Butler's Skyla Knight (1) maneuvers herself along the baseline for the unique layup in the 65-57 win over Cloud County on Monday, March 15.

EL DORADO, Kansas — Butler’s women's basketball team emerged victorious Monday night with a 65-57 victory over Cloud County, but the final margin doesn’t begin to illustrate the closeness of the game.

After suffering their first loss of the season Saturday to Coffeyville, the Grizzlies (14-1) weren’t assured of this triumph until the final couple of minutes.

Sophomore Skyla Knight took the ball to the hoop for a lay-in and a three-point play that broke a 50-50 tie with 5:32 to play. She then fed sophomore post Tamara Nard for a lay-in with 4:49 left for a five-point lead.

But back came Cloud County. The Thunderbirds (7-8, 6-8) pulled to within 55-54 on a putback by post Le’Yanna McGinnis, part of her game-high 27 points. Butler would score, then Cloud would answer to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to a point.

Nard banked in a lay-in for a 61-56 lead with 1:38 left, then Knight — who led Butler with 22 points — made a steal and lay-in for a 63-56 lead with 1:05 left. After McGinnis made one of two free throws, Knight hit two more free throws for the final margin.

In addition to her point total, Knight had three steals and five assists.

“She played solid (Monday) and did some good things,” Helmer said. “When she’s in the open court, she’s really hard to deal with.”

Nard had a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. 

“She was really good (Monday night) and really got physical inside,” Helmer said. “She missed some ‘bunnies’ that she should have hit, but she’s just got to work hard and get better at it.”

There were other scary moments. Butler went on a 9-2 run in the final three minutes of the first half for a 33-26 lead at the break.

However, Cloud outscored the Grizzlies 11-4 to open the third quarter for a 37-37 tie. McGinnis hit one of two free throws for a one-point lead, but the Grizzlies answered on Maddie Livingston's transition lay-in.

That lead would swing back and forth, and the teams were tied after three quarters, 47-47. It then seesawed until the final six minutes of the game as the Grizzlies began to pull away.

The victory might have soothed some of the upset from Saturday night, but a perplexed coach Mike Helmer emphasized afterward that there is much to work on.

“We just didn’t play well again, and our energy level is bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I have no idea.”

He said he did like seeing the strong finish to both halves.

“The game was on the line a little bit, so they choose to get after it,” Helmer said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t do that from start to finish.”

After an abysmal 17 of 33 free-throw performance against Coffeyville, Butler converted 13 of 18 (72%) against the Thunderbirds.

“We shot free throws better, and that’s a good thing,” Helmer said. “There were some things that we did improve on, but we’re going to take the day off (Tuesday) then get back to work Wednesday and Thursday and see what happens.”

Butler is halfway through a four-game homestand. Independence (12-4, 9-4), which Butler beat 68-46 on the road Feb. 27, will come to the Power Plant on Saturday. Two days later, the Grizzlies will play host to Garden City (8-7, 7-7). 

“You’ve got to win, just figure out how to get one more and move on and try to get to the next one,” Helmer said.