It's hard to say that a player who doesn't score a single point and takes only two shots is the star of the game, but Shawnee Mission Northwest can thank 5-10 senior Danielle Rehor for propelling the Cougars into their first-ever championship game of the Mid America Classic.
It wasn't the points she scored, but the points she prevented that sparked the Cougars as they handed McPherson High its first loss of the season after 11 straight wins, 42-35.
Northwest, the No. 3 team in Class 6A and now 10-2, will play fellow Kansas City area school Olathe East at 7:15 p.m. Saturday that will crown one of the two a Classic champion for the first time.
McPherson plays the 5:30 third-place game against Manhattan in what matches the teams that entered the Classic seeded Nos. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
The 5-10 senior Rehor, a very strong, quick and athletic player, clamped down on MHS All-Stater Taylor Robertson and almost never let her catch the ball or drive to the basket. She held the 20-point-a-game scorer to just one first-half field goal attempt and it wasn't the final 24.2 seconds did she score, when she exploded for seven quick points during a torrid Bullpup comeback.
Northwest coach Tyler Stewart, the old McPherson College 3-point shooter in his days under Roger Trimmell, was bursting with pride about how hard his team played defensively.
"Dani did an awesome job on her (Robertson)," Stewart said. "Just tried to stick to her every second, because if you give that Robertson girl just an inch, she's going to knock it down. You see her day after day knocking shots down and going for 20-plus every game. We just wanted to make her make tough shots and not give her a wide-open one."
Once Northwest took control of the game in the third quarter, Stewart elected to go into a delay game that flummoxed the Bullpups and their supporters, reminiscent of the old North Carolina days under Dean Smith. The Cougars patiently scored the final nine points of the third quarter to lead 28-17 and were up as many as 13 with under 5 minutes to go.
Playing to protect the lead instead of keeping the foot on the gas backfired somewhat as MHS stormed back within three, but ran out of time. Northwest didn't help itself by missing a passel of free throws and finished the game 21 of 37 to just 8 of 11 for the Bullpups, though coach Chris Strathman said he had no problems with the disparity as his team had to start fouling early in the fourth quarter since it could not turn the Cougars over.
"That (not forcing turnovers) was a huge key," Strathman said. "When you have a 6-0 post/guard who can handle the ball (Brenni Rose), it's tough to match up with that. You'd like to get out and pressure with your guards, with her we had Ashtyn (Schieferecke) on her a little bit and she's not used to getting out and pressuring. That's not where she's used to being."
Strathman couldn't fault the effort as his team played with everything it had.
"We competed against a very, very good team," he said. "They're ranked No. 3 right now in 6A for a reason. They're definitely more than the Rose girl… they've got some other very good pieces to go with her. We battled. We were fighting uphill the whole game. That takes a lot out of you."
That the Bullpups were down just 17-15 at the half was miracle in itself, since Robertson was scoreless, and Emma Yowell and Paige Schmidt had to spend some time on the bench after picking up three fouls apiece. That led to reserves like Jordan Bruner, Riley Hett and Rylee Schrader into important minutes, an experience that will help them in the future.
Mandi Cooks was tremendous for the Bullpups as despite still being under the weather, she kept them in the game with 15 points, making 6 of 7 shots, and also pulled down eight rebounds. MHS won the glass battle 24-17, but nearly doubled the savvy Cougars in turnovers, 15-8.
Rose, a Division I signee with Drake University, showed her versatility with 17 points and displayed tremendous ballhandling skills for a 6-0 post as he was a key in the delay game that melted so much clock. Shelbie McLain added 15 and had only one turnover in 30 minutes.