BUHLER – The Buhler girls won six straight basketball games heading into this week, but McPherson and Andover awaited.
With two more wins, it’s time to consider Buhler a contender.
First the Crusaders beat McPherson on Tuesday, ending a 14-year losing streak against the Bullpups.
And on Friday, Buhler beat Andover 53-43, extending the Crusaders’ winning streak to eight. The loss snapped Andover’s five-game win streak.
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“We just let a big ‘hoorah’ in the locker room because we have a solid team,” said coach Jon McLean, whose team is 8-1. “Not that we don’t need to get better, but those are two huge wins beating quality teams.”
Buhler junior Jessica Steffen scored 34 points, hitting 8 of 15 shots and 16 of 19 free throws with eight rebounds. Alex Keller had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Steffen said. “I knew Andover was a great team, and with great teams, you just have to be aggressive and confident in your ability.”
Steffen was a problem for Andover (7-2), which usually failed to stop her without committing a foul. Her 12 free throws in the first half were half of Buhler’s points.
“Man, she hits free throws,” Andover coach Max Hamblin said.
Buhler hit 20 of 28 free throws, while Andover was 5 of 9 from the line.
“She’s a great shooter, so other teams have to come guard her,” McLean said of Steffen. “We set a lot of pick and rolls, and a lot of times, that’s a post player stepping out on a guard. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve drawn a foul from the pick and roll.”
Steffen didn’t attempt a free throw in the third quarter, but she hit 3 of 5 shots, including a three-pointer.
Andover had gotten within 24-23 on Lexie Tilson’s layup early in the third quarter, but then Steffen scored on a putback and hit a three.
Alex Keller, with Andover senior Jaylyn Agnew flying at her with her long arms extended, hit a three for the 33-25 lead with 4:02 to go in the third.
Andover struggled offensively, making 17 of 60 shots, including 4 of 26 three-pointers.
“It was out of control in the first half,” Hamblin said of his team’s three-point shooting. “We missed how many two-footers? A zillion? Golly, we left a lot of points on the table. First half we were one pass and fire.”
But Andover made a fourth-quarter run, getting the ball inside on three early possessions for baskets from Agnew, Hayley Meisch and Tilson as part of a 10-2 run.
Agnew left the game with 7:35 to go with cramping in both legs. She had nine points and six rebounds.
Two minutes later, the Trojans tied the score at 40-all on a three-pointer by Katelyn Day. She finished with a team-high 18 points, making three three-pointers.
“We moved the ball, we got the defense moving a little bit, and it opened up gaps for us,” Hamblin said. “That’s what we didn’t do in the first half.”
But with the score tied, Buhler went to Steffen, who found a wide-open lane as the Crusaders took the lead for good with 5:16 to go. Her basket started a 13-1 run.
Buhler’s defense clamped down on Andover, which went more than five minutes without a basket before Riley Messina scored in the final seconds.
“For the most part, our defense has been pretty solid,” McLean said. “We made (Andover) shoot a lot of perimeter shots, had a hand in their face.… We forced them into a lot of tough shots.”
ANDOVER: Agnew 9, Tilson 7, Meisch 4, Messina 4, Day 18, Hays 1.
BUHLER: Steffen 34, Rohr 3, Burns 2, Keller 12, Ball 2.