WBK: Westmont can’t recover from early deficit in NAIA Tourney opener

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A 21-point halftime deficit proved to be too much to overcome for the NAIA defending national champions as #13 Westmont Women’s Basketball (20-10) fell 66-53 to #20 Xavier of Louisiana (24-9) in the first round of the 2014 NAIA National Championship.

The Golden Nuggets made 46.2 percent of their shots from the field in the first half and Westmont struggled with Xavier’s full court press and its control of the boards. The Nuggets outrebounded the Warriors 25-13 including 10-2 on the offensive glass. Westmont also committed eight turnovers in the opening frame while Xavier had just two. The result was a 42-21 halftime score.

The opening minutes of the second half evoked hope as the Warriors started off with an 11-0 run. A free throw by Lauren Sende was followed by a three-pointer by Esther Lee. Sampson then scored a field goal and Lee struck again from downtown. Sampson completed the run with another field goal to make the score 42-32.

“I am very proud of the character that this team showed and the way we fought in the second half,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “I thought the things we could control – our effort, our attitude and our mental preparation – were all there.

“Unfortunately, in the first half, we just physically couldn’t get it done. We couldn’t get it done on the boards and Xavier shot the lights out.

“All we talked about in the locker room (at halftime) was believing, (taking) one possession at a time and getting (defensive) stops. We got stops, turned them into scores and gave ourselves a chance. We just couldn’t get that second run.

Despite their effort, Westmont would get no closer than eight points the rest of the game.

“We talk all year about how it is more about who we are than what we do,” said Moore. “That’s true when we won a national championship last year and when we lose in the first round this year. Our players have a lot to be proud of as far as who they are and who they were as a team this year.”

Sampson led all scorers with 26 points, she also had seven rebounds. Lee added 16 points, 12 in the second half. Sende pulled down a game-high 10 boards.

“The hardest part about losing is not being able to play with your seniors again,” said Moore. “Erin (Beadle) and Kelsie have given so much to this program over four years and they have accomplished so much. Their careers have been incredible. They have won two conference championships and a national championship. They were part of creating new history at Westmont. They leave a great legacy of work and competitiveness. Those two stood for competing.

“We are confident that our returners and underclassmen are going to work hard this offseason and let this fuel us going forward to improving and being ready to try to make an opportunity to be back at the national tournament next year.”

Sampson concludes her senior year with 601 points, the third best single-season scoring mark in Warrior history. Her 1,302 career points ranks fourth among Warrior scorers. She is also the Warriors’ all-time leading shot blocker with 116 career blocks.

As Westmont’s point guard, Beadle produced an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.94 in her senior year, third best in the NAIA.

During Sampson and Beadle’s years on the Westmont roster, the Warriors had a four year win-loss record of 101-28.