Bucs earn NWC title, best nation’s top-ranked team

by James Silberman

The Whitworth women’s basketball team topped the nation’s No. 1 team, Whitman, on Saturday  night and handed the Missionaries their first loss of the season, 68-65.

The women’s team played its tournament semi-final game on the road as the No. 3 seed against George Fox, where they lost a close matchup earlier in the year. The game was close for the first half, until a 13-0 Pirate run aided by 3-pointers from senior forward Kendra Lahue and junior guard Kendra Knutsen early in the second half gave Whitworth a 52-38 lead. They would hold on for the 74-55 victory.

The championship game, however, would prove a greater challenge for the Pirates to overcome.

The women’s team spent three-fourths of the game playing catch-up against the Missionaries. It was not until a Knutsen 3-pointer with 12 minutes to go in the game that Whitworth took its first lead at 42-40. Her shot was part of a 9-0 run that gave the Pirates a 46-40 lead. Whitman would respond with five consecutive points to pull within one, with 8 minutes to play. However, eight consecutive points from sophomore guard KC McConnell kept the Missionaries at bay.

Later in the game, a 3-pointer from senior guard Kayla Johnson gave the Pirates a seven-point lead at 61-54. However, Whitman showed why they were the top-ranked team in the country, scoring 11 points on their next five possessions, including seven from NWC Player of the Year, senior guard Heather Johns.

But the Pirates were able to hold off the furious rally by hitting 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute.

“That was one of my greatest basketball game memories because I was so proud of everyone for stepping up and playing to their fullest potential,” Johnson said. “Being the first team to beat them this season feels pretty great.”

McConnell scored a team-high 18 points, Johnson recorded a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards and Katara Belton-Sharp added 10 points.

The win was the second consecutive NWC tournament victory for women’s head coach Helen Higgs, and guaranteed Whitworth a spot in next week’s NCAA tournament.

“I think the biggest reward is making the NCAA tournament,” Higgs said. “It was a bonus to do it against the No. 1 team in the country.”

Higgs also said that she thinks that her team is playing at its best right now.

“I think we are playing outstanding, we just need to stay focused,” Higgs said.

Johnson echoed Higgs’ opinions.

“We are sparking at the right time and will be ready for any team,” Johnson said. “If we can go out and play like we have these past couple games, we believe we can go a long way.”

The women found out their tournament matchup on Monday. Check out thewhitworthian.news for updates.

Contact James Silberman at jsilberman17@my.whitworth.edu

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