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Lady Cavs upset in national tourney opener

Darton head women's basketball coach Lea Henry loses four sophomores off this year's region championship and national qualifier team.

Darton head women's basketball coach Lea Henry loses four sophomores off this year's region championship and national qualifier team.

SALINA, Kan. — They came. They saw. They learned.

That was the message Darton State College women’s basketball coach Lea Henry delivered to her tearful and disappointed team Tuesday night after the Lady Cavs — who came into the NCAA national tournament on an 11-game winning streak and with the program’s highest-ever Top 25 ranking — were upset in their opener, 79-72, by play-in qualifier Blinn College out of Texas.

“We just talked afterward about how proud we should be of this season and what we did,” said Henry, who delivered Darton a region championship and second-ever trip to nationals in just her second season. “We told the sophomores how much we appreciated them and wished them the best in whatever adventure was next for them, and we told the freshmen who are coming back to take note of this feeling; how it feels to lose. We learned what we have to do to compete out here, and we’ll be better for it.”

Darton jumped out to a quick 7-3 lead — but once the Lady Bucs got going and Darton went cold, they assumed control of the game, going on a 19-3 run to take a 22-10 lead late in the second half. The Lady Cavs, who finished the season 30-4, would pull to within six by halftime, 42-36, but Blinn’s run-and-gun style of offense proved too much for Darton to overcome.

Henry said looking at the scoreboard as she and her team walked out of the gym — and seeing how many points her normally defensive-minded bunch gave up — may have hurt the worst of all.

“Defensively, we didn’t do what we needed to. Our offense kept us in the game, but our defense was not what it should’ve been,” said Henry, whose program had only given up more than 79 points once all season — and that, too, came in a loss. “We outrebounded them and we shot a higher percentage, but their quick buckets they got — and the fact they scored 20 poinys from the free throw line and we just had seven — was the biggest differences.”

On the bright side, it was freshman Jasmine Wilson who led Darton in scoring, and she will return next year to lead the new-look Lady Cavs, who lose four sophomores, including leading scorer Michelle Mitchell.

Wilson finished with 19 points, followed by Mitchell with 18, Chanteneice Fann with 12 and Kadayasha Jones with 10.

But it wasn’t enough to stop Blinn’s fast-break attack of Jazzmin Parker (game-high 23 points), Audrisa Harrison (15) and Fatima Adams (14). Blinn (32-4), which had to play its way in with a win Monday, moves on to meet No. 1 seed Trinity Valley on Thursday in a game the Lady Cavs sorely wish included them.

“It was a great year,” Henry said. “Losing (Tuesday) doesn’t change that. It’s OK to be disappointed. That’s natural. We just have to learn from it, go out and get better.”