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March 27, 2012

NJCAA WOMEN'S NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Just perfect (w/box score, scores)

TVCC wins sixth national title with 69-55 win over unbeaten Hutchinson

SALINA, Kan. — There was one last piece of the net dangling, and there was only one person in the arena fit to cut it down.

Not Keuna Flax, who moments earlier had been named MVP of the NJCAA Women’s National Championship tournament.

Not Kenya Landers, who won a title as a player in 1999 and coached the team to the top this year.

Instead, Landers grabbed Shelley Budke by the arm and invited her up the ladder at the Bicentennial Center to finish the job.

After all, it was Shelley’s husband, Kurt, who had started the job nearly 20 years earlier at Trinity Valley Community College.

TVCC’s Lady Cardinals further solidified the dynasty Mr. Budke built by winning the school’s sixth women national championship on Saturday with a 69-55 win over Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College’s Lady Blue Dragons at the Bicentennial Center.

“We had some special help with us tonight,” said Landers, who, along with husband and co-head coach Michael Landers, is now 70-3 in two seasons as TVCC head coach. “There was no way we were going to be denied. No way.”

With the victory, the Lady Cardinals completed the third undefeated season in school history (36-0) — doing so by knocking off a Lady Blue Dragons team that was also undefeated and playing in its first-ever championship game.

Hutchinson, which plays its home games less than an hour from the Bicentennial Center and brought thousands of fans for the game, finished 36-1.

Prior to the championship game, a dedication ceremony was held naming the court “Kurt Budke Court.” Budke, a Salina native, coached the Lady Cardinals to four national championships in the 1990s. He went on to become the head coach at Louisiana Tech and then Oklahoma State University.

Budke, along with former Lady Card and OSU assistant coach Miranda Serna and two others, was killed in a plane crash last November in Arkansas during a recruiting trip. He was 50.

So forgive the Lady Cardinals if they were talking about a perfect, made-for-Hollywood ending after beating Hutch and winning the first-ever game on Kurt Budke Court.

Flax, a sophomore, was named outstanding player of the tournament after scoring 21 points in the championship game. She also had 26 points in the Lady Cards’ semifinals win over Pensacola State College on Friday night.

Flax played only one season at TVCC, having transferred to the school after spending two seasons at Oklahoma State with Budke. Injuries left her looking to restart her career.

One All-America season now behind her, she found the restart she was looking for by becoming the sixth Lady Cardinal to claim tournament MVP honors, joining Shalonda Ennis (1994), Jennifer Sposato (1996), Betty Lennox (1997), Yalika Barnes (1999) and Yolanda Jones (2004).

The Lady Cardinals were leading a 9-7 ballgame with just under three minutes gone in the contest when Flax began her magical night. She hit her first three-pointer of the game at the 16:39 mark, then spotted up and hit another 38 seconds later to push the lead to 15-7.

Thirty three seconds later, she hit another, leaving the mostly partisan crowd rooting for Hutchinson screaming for someone to guard her.

Fans gasped in near unison when Flax ran around a screen and took a pass with 13:48 to go in the half. She didn’t disappoint, sinking her fourth trey in less than three minutes to push the lead to 21-11 and force Hutchinson head coach John Ontjes to call a timeout.

He called another one with 5:16 left after Flax’s fifth three-pointer of the half gave the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the country a 35-20 lead in the biggest game of the season.

“A lot of that was my fault because of how we game-planned,” Ontjes told the Hutchinson News. “Instead of being aggressive and doing what we had all year, we played a passive zone and then we played from behind the whole way.”

Said Flax: “Coach said anytime you’re open, shoot the ball. So I just kept shooting the ball and it was there. I fed off that crowd. I liked that they were against us. It didn’t make me feel nervous. I was excited.”

The Lady Blue Dragons didn’t score over the final 3:13 of the first half and fell behind by 20 when TVCC’s other All-American, Sha’Kayla Caples, hit a jumper with five minutes to go in the game.

Much to the delight of the crowd, that was about to change.

Jackie Patterson completed a three-point play after being fouled on a short jumper in the lane to spark a 13-0 run with 4:50 left. The last basket in the run was a three-pointer by Chelsea Small, who hit the shot after the second consecutive Lady Cardinal turnover.

Alice Robinson stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws with 2:23 to go, and Starr Breedlove hit two more after TVCC rebounded a Hutch miss. The Lady Blue Dragons’ next possession ended with an offensive foul drawn by Flax.

All that was left was the celebration by the most dominant JUCO team in the history of the sport.

But is it a dynasty?

“We’re the best junior college program in the country, and we’ve got the numbers to prove it,” Mr. Landers said. “I’m not saying that to be arrogant. It’s just that that’s who we tell recruits we are and that’s what we’re about and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

Caples, one of three Lady Cards to be named to the all-tournament team along with fellow sophomores Flax and Breanna Lewis, finished with nine points to wrap up a brilliant career at TVCC. Lewis had 14 points, including four threes, and Breedlove finished with 12.

“This means so much to me,” sophomore Jenea Barrett said. “But it means a lot to everyone on this team. We’ve been through so much together. We’re sisters, and we couldn’t have done this without every last one of us.”

Every last one of ’em — including Kurt.

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