by Jordanne Perry
The Whitworth women’s basketball team continued their regular season in the Fieldhouse with a 65-57 loss to the undefeated No. 2, George Fox Bruins and a 67-61 victory over the Willamette Bearcats. The win against the Bearcats puts the Pirates in their fourth consecutive Northwest Conference playoffs.
George Fox barely led Whitworth by two points in the first quarter, 15-13, and by four points at halftime, 28-24. Though the game was tied 10 times in the first half, the Pirates struggled to put shots up in the paint. George Fox’s tight defense held the Pirates at a 25 percent shooting average (9-35).
“They’re a really high intensity team and we just had to counter that with our own intensity and poise,” senior Faith Emerson said. “Poise is really important on the offensive end, not just the defensive, and [George Fox] is just a great team overall.”
The Pirates came out strong in the second half with a quick layup by sophomore Callie Harwood.
“[George Fox’s] press is what really got the best of us the last time we played them and it hurt us in the end because they try to make the ball handlers frantic and force turnovers” Harwood said. “When we play with the same heart and intensity and eliminate the little [mistakes] we can win.”
The Pirates continued to trail the Bruins by no more than four points throughout the second half. The offensive leadership of senior KC McConnell, who scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half, kept the Pirates within close reach of the Bruins. McConnell was the second-highest scorer of the game behind Emerson, who had 18 points.
With 5:51 to go in the fourth quarter, Harwood made two free throws for the Pirates to tie the Bruins, 50-50. However, the Bruins answered with a full court press forcing three consecutive turnovers from the Pirates. Whitworth, unable to recover, fell to George Fox in a 65-57 defeat and lost its three-game winning streak.
“I felt like we played really hard,” head coach Helen Higgs said. “We didn’t execute some things we worked on and against a high level team like [George Fox] you have to really perfect your execution, but overall I was really happy with our effort.”
In the following evening the Pirate offense started off their Senior Night game slow against the Bearcats, who held the lead for most of the first quarter.
“We needed to focus more on the little things: rebounding, boxing out and help side on defense. That’s where we struggled a little bit tonight,” McConnell said.
The Bearcats gained momentum on a 13-1 run extending their lead by more than 10 points with 2:54 to go in the second quarter. The Pirates would not stay behind for long as McConnell, senior Jessica Thoens and senior Taylor Flemming contributed to a 14-point run to finish the half trailing the Bearcats, 29-27.
The second half commenced with a battle for the lead, but a 12-point run kickstarted by a jumper from Thoens gave the Pirates a lead that the Bearcats would not recapture.
“We really wanted to dig in on the defensive end,” McConnell said. “We didn’t get it done in the first half so we wanted our defense to feed our offense and that is how we got our comeback going.”
Whitworth secured a 46-39 win with top performances by McConnell who led the Pirates offensively and defensively with 17 points and six defensive rebounds (seven total). Flemming finished the night as the second-highest scorer with a Whitworth career high of 15 points. In addition, Emerson finished with 13 points.
“It wasn’t our prettiest win but it was fun to go out there,” McConnell said. “It’s sad knowing it was our last game at home but it was good because we got to come back from behind and it was a big win for us that put us in playoffs.”
The Pirates will face off against the Puget Sound Loggers and Pacific Lutheran Lutes in Western Washington on Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m., respectively.