COLUMBIA — Rebecca DeRidder didn’t expect Janairrika Bland to shoot.
On the first possession of Columbia College’s American Midwest Conference tournament quarterfinal against Hannibal-LaGrange, Bland held the ball a step behind the 3-point line. Positioned at the top of the key, Columbia College’s 6-foot-4 forward noticed DeRidder crouched in a defensive stance at the free-throw line. The cushion was all Bland needed; the tallest player on the floor Tuesday released a 3-pointer that fell through the net to give Columbia College an immediate lead.
"I think you look at her and you just don’t assume that’s going to happen," said head coach Mike Davis . "Heck, I never know what she’s going to do."
In just 15 minutes of action during Columbia College’s 90-43 win over Hannibal-LaGrange, Bland couldn’t be stopped, scoring a game-high 18 points on 8-12 shooting. The sophomore forward dominated the seventh-seeded Trojans on the perimeter and on the block.
"I had it going tonight," Bland said after the game. "I was really able to use my size."
With the win, Columbia College advanced to the semifinals of the AMC tournament. On Friday, the second-seeded Cougars will host No. 3 Lyon College at 7 p.m. The Cougars swept the regular-season series against Lyon, winning 86-71 at home and 82-73 on the road.
Bland, along with Petrolina Chilaka and Laurel Wichmann, reached double figures in scoring for Columbia in the first half. The Cougars led the Trojans 47-25 at intermission. Chilaka and Wichmann each finished the game with 14 points.
Despite Bland’s finesse from outside the 3-point line, Davis was more pleased with his team's ability to score in the paint. The Cougars shot 52.8 percent from the field.
"It’s really amazing with this team when we do that — touch the paint," he said. "We become such a better team."
It may be the postseason, but Tuesday night was much of the same for Columbia, which has defeated an opponent by 45 or more points five times this year. The Cougars have won 13 of their last 14 games — the only loss coming against top-seeded Freed-Hardeman University. Those two teams could be on a crash course to meet in the AMC final, which is scheduled for Monday. Freed-Hardeman will host William Woods University in the semifinals.
The Cougars dominated Hannibal-LaGrange in nearly every aspect of the game Tuesday, outrebounding the Trojans 50-31, and forcing them to turn the ball over 17 times.
Columbia submitted an impressive defensive performance, holding Hannibal-LaGrange to 29.3 percent shooting. Forward Morgan Winkler (12 points) was the only Trojan in double-figures.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.