Butler WBB hands Garden City worst loss of the season, advances in Region VI Tournament

The Grizzlies have not lost a region game since March 2018.

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
Butler's Tamara Nard attempts a shot against two Garden City defenders in the second half in Wednesday's Region VI Quarterfinal at the Power Plant in El Dorado, Kansas.

EL DORADO, Kansas — Butler didn’t want to leave this one to chance as they never trailed on Wednesday night, taking care of business against seventh-seeded Garden City.

After Skyla Knight hit a game-winner a couple of weeks ago to beat Garden City by a point, the second-seeded Butler Grizzlies went to work, building a 12-point halftime lead and rolled it into a 70-44  win in the quarterfinals of the Region VI Tournament. 

“I knew this was going to be a tough win,” Butler Head Coach Mike Helmer said. “Coach [Antwain] Scales’ teams are always tough. We knew it was going to be a shot-for-shot game. No one anticipated this score.”

It’s an impressive win coming off their regular season ending loss to Coffeyville last week. 

“I told them on Thursday and Friday that I didn’t want to see them,” Helmer said. “With COVID, we needed just to get away. I’m usually sipping on a lemonade watching the Master’s at this time. So, we’re all still adjusting.

“We needed the time off.”

Last year, Butler’s last game was on March 6, a month sooner than this season. 

The Grizzlies, who are ranked ninth nationally, are now only two wins away from advancing to their third consecutive NJCAA National Tournament, which takes place in Lubbock, Texas. 

Butler has won seven consecutive Region VI games, dating back to their 2019 regional title. Their last Region VI loss dates back to the 2018 season.

Butler led by as many as 26 in the contest and showed why once again Butler (20-2) are considered the favorite to win it all. Their defense was suffocating as they held Garden City to only 28.3 percent shooting on the year, their second worst shooting performance of the year.

Paris Mullins scored 10 of her 14 points in the first quarter as Butler jumped out to a 20-13 lead after one frame. 

As Garden city closed the deficit within five points midway through the second quarter, two back backing threes really saw the game change. Carissa Beck hit a contested corner three on the left side. Then, sophomore Riley Hett drained on the other side as the final seconds of the half ticked off. 

The momentum change gave Butler the 39-27 halftime advantag3e.

Teams have tried to pack the paint and force Butler to beat them from the outside and Butler made them pay. They finished 7 of 12 behind the 3-point line, including going 6 of 7 in the first half. 

“People say we have bad shooters because we shoot 25 percent,” Helmer said. “It’s not that we have bad shooters, it’s we’ve taken some bad shots.”

The Grizzlies were led by freshman Cameren Downs. She finished with only four points but had six assists and four rebounds, along with two steals.

“When Cam [Downs] came off tonight, I told her ‘I’m so proud of you. This is exactly what I expected from you and you couldn’t have played better.’”

Downs seemed to always have the right recipe to dictate the flow of the game when Garden City was trying to force Butler into difficult situations. 

“Coach trusts me to push it if they’re trying to slow us down and to slow it down when they try to speed us up,” Downs said. 

After Butler saw Garden City hit their first three shots, Butler’s defense cracked down. They held Garden City (12-11) to only five shots the remainder of the half and 12 through the third quarters.

The tough defense that had elevated Butler to their 19-win season shined brightly. 

Butler forced 16 turnovers for 18 points and it was even more so in the fourth as Butler’s lead ballooned to as many as 26 in the game’s final minutes. 

Though Butler let Garden City hit their first two three-pointers of the game, it was how they finished is what mattered. Butler forced Garden City to miss their next 22 attempts.  

Butler saw Mullins lead Butler with 14 points , all in the first half. Six different players scored at least six points, creating a deadly concoction of scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies. 

Coach always says we’re ’12 deep’ and I believe we are,” Downs said. “We know that we have a player in every position that can come in and when we need a breather, we have another player that we trust that can come in and do the same thing.”

For Garden City Aerihna Afoa and Donetria McGee led the Broncbusters in scoring with 11 points each.

Garden City forced 21 Butler turnovers on the night, for 12 points. 

“Coach [Abby] Fawcett looked at me in the first quarter and said we were on pace for 20 turnovers,” Helmer said. “We talked at halftime if we stopped turning the ball over, we’d be up 20.”

The Grizzlies will now travel to Friends University on Friday night at 6 p.m. for a showdown with either Barton or Coffeyville in the semifinals of the Region VI Tournament. The Grizzlies beat Barton 61-54 in their only head-to-head match up on Feb. 17 in El Dorado.

“We have to keep playing our game,” Downs said. “We know what we can do and just have to keep doing it.”

Since that game, Barton has gone 15-2, winning six consecutive games. They haven’t lost since March 22. 

“Barton is just so quick and athletic,” Helmer said. “We hope we just hope our defense can cause them some problems and we have to value the basketball.”

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.