WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The Whitworth University women’s basketball team earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament win with a 71-51 win over George Fox University on Friday evening in the Sherwood Center.
“We’re just really excited to win the game,” Whitworth head coach Helen Higgs said. “It’s the first NCAA tournament win for our program, so we’re really excited about that. I was really excited that we came out and performed right from the start and kind of dictated the game.”
Whitworth improves to 21-7 on the season and advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. George Fox ends the season with a 22-5 record.
Senior Kendra Lahue repeated her performance from last Thursday’s matchup in Newberg, hitting a three-pointer to give Whitworth a 3-0 lead early.
“(Hitting that three) was awesome,” Lahue said. “We love the energy and our bench went crazy. It was a lot of fun.”
Seniors Kayla Johnson and Jamie Lyons each scored o layups in the first three minutes of action to push the Pirates’ lead to five, 7-2. Whitworth led 13-7 before the Bruins used an 11-4 run to take an 18-17 lead. The teams traded leads on the next four possessions. Sophomore Alexis McLeod drained a three-pointer to tie the game 26-26. In the final possession of the half, Johnson was fouled with 0.2 seconds left. Johnson made both free throws to give the Pirates a 28-26 lead at halftime.
After the Bruins tied the game in the opening seconds of the second half, sophomore Lexie Zappone went on a 5-0 to give Whitworth a 33-28 lead and force the Bruins to call timeout. Sophomore KC McConnell pushed the Pirate lead to seven after the timeout, but George Fox cut the lead to two, 37-35 with 16:20 left to play. Whitworth refused to surrender the lead, and turned defensive stops into points on the offensive end to extend their lead. Kendra Lahue hit her second three of the game to give Whitworth its first double digit lead, 56-46, with 3:03 left to play. Following the pattern of the last three games, Whitworth sealed the victory at the charity stripe, making 13 consecutive free throws in the final 2:23.
The Pirates scored 15 points off of 21 Bruin turnovers. Whitworth only turned the ball over six times, tying the season low. The Pirates shot 80 percent (16-20) from the free throw line and outscored the Bruins 43-25 in the second half.
“Our energy is crazy right now,” Johnson said. “We’re such a close team and I think it really shows when we come together and get excited about every play on the court.”
Kayla Johnson posted her second consecutive double-double game, scoring 27 points and pulling down 10 rebounds to lead the Pirates. Kendra Lahue added nine points, while Lexie Zappone chipped in eight points. KC McConnell had two assists for Whitworth, while Johnson and Zappone had three steals each.
Hayley Cusick led the Bruins with 13 points. Jami Roos added 12 points and pulled down five rebounds. Jordyn Peacock pulled down five boards as well.
Whitworth will play the winner of the Whitman-Chapman game at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday in the Sherwood Center in Walla Walla.