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Westmont wears out Azusa in GSAC Championship

Westmont Women’s Basketball shot sixty percent in the second half to overcome a nine-point deficit and claim a 70-64 win over Azusa Pacific (24-6) in the championship game of the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament. The championship win brings the Warriors record to 29-3 this season.

“During our team retreat at the beginning of the year, we made a poster board with all the goals we had for this year,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “Today, I hung that on our board in our team room. It is a pretty satisfying feeling to see all the checkmarks on the poster board – not just big goals, but goals for all the little steps it takes to get there. From the extra works outs to the bigger goals that we accomplished tonight. The little things make the big things happen. We stuck to being committed to the little things. It is fun when the big things do happen. It is a great life lesson for all of us to remember and learn from.”

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Some of the loftier of the goals included:
Winning a GSAC regular season championship. Check.
Winning a GSAC tournament championship. Check.
Going undefeated at home. Check.

“Tonight, our crowd made a huge difference,” said a grateful Moore, “both the student support and the community support we had, was terrific. The baseball team was amazing. They have supported us in our efforts to win a championship and they get the whole school and the whole crowd behind us.

“I am excited that the hard work that each one of these young woman have put in is being recognized by this community. Anyone in that gym tonight knows there is no better college basketball environment than that.”

Westmont struggled offensively in the first half, scoring only three points in the first 11 minutes of play. But the Warriors’ defense kept them in the game, limiting the Cougars to only 12 points in the first 13 and one-half minutes. By halftime, Westmont had pulled to within five points at 29-24.

We played really good defense tonight in both halves,” said Moore. ‘We struggled to get going offensively. When you are playing such a big game and you want it so bad, you can be a little bit too fired up and that can hurt your offensive game. I kept telling my players to relax and trust themselves, but to keep playing defense and keep rebounding and that if we kept doing those things we were going to win the basketball game. We stayed with it, we believed in it and the offense came around.”

Westmont’s Lisa Peterson (17 points, 10 rebounds) cut Azusa’s lead to three early in the second half, but back-to-back layups by the Cougars’ Amber Williams (13 points, 8 rebounds) and another by Rebecca Roehrkasse (15 points, 7 rebounds), quickly returned Azusa Pacific to their largest lead of the night at 35-26 with 18 minutes remaining in the second half.

With 15:35 remaining in regulation, Tugce Canitez (18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) scored on a layup and Aubrey Lincoln nailed a three-pointer to pull the Warriors within four (35-31). A layup by Peterson and two free throws by Lincoln, was followed by a three-pointer from Katie Kittle (19 points, 4 assists, 3 steals), completing a 12-0 Warrior run that gave Westmont its first lead of the night 38-35.

An and-one play by Azusa’s Madalene Barrett (3 points, 4 rebounds), tied the game at 38 before the Warriors exploded for a 15-3 run to take a 53-41 lead with 5:41 remaining. Kelsie Sampson (six points) started the run with back-to-back layups, then Kittle drained another of her four threes. After Roehrkasse hit a jumper, Canitez scored on a layup and Kittle struck again from downtown. Lincoln traded free throw with Briana Hall (22 points, 11 assists), before Peterson capped the run with a layup.

The Cougars fought back and pulled to within three points (62-59) with 1:25 to play, but the Warriors kept making their shots and free throws down the stretch, keeping the game beyond the grasp of the Cougars’ paws.

Moore had a whole list of reasons for the Warriors victory. “Lisa Peterson played as good of a game as I have ever seen her play. Lisa had a double-double and Tugce had a double-double going against some of the best posts in the whole country. Katie Kittle was so aggressive in the second half. Larissa Hensley had 10 assists. Kelsey came off the bench and made big plays and Laruen Rock came off the bench playing great defense.” She also credited the energy of the entire bench and the team competitiveness.

“The theme we have had all year is “unity for excellence” with the word “arête” – being the best that you can be. It is not a comparative word. It is about us trying to be our best. I have known since the first time we got together on our team retreat that if we would push each other to be our best that we could accomplish anything with the talent we have on our team. It is really satisfying to see all that work come to fruition.”

The Warriors will now wait until Wednesday to learn their seeding in the upcoming NAIA National Tournament. Westmont is hoping to be one of four number one seeds.

“Tomorrow we are going to take a much needed day of rest,” said Moore. “I saw an article on the 75th anniversary for the men’s tournament in which a man said that the NAIA Tournament is the most difficult tournament there ever was – trying to win and National Championship with five wins in six days. So, we need to go in there as healthy and rested as we can. We are going to rest, ice and take care of our bodies. When we find out who we are going to play, we will start putting together a game plan. This win in a big game in a big environment gives us momentum going into nationals.”

The Warriors have not forgotten that there are a few more goals on their poster yet to be checked. They’d like nothing more than to cut down the nets for a third time this season.