WBK: Warriors into 2nd round at NAIA tourney

Westmont Women’s Basketball (25-6) has moved on to the second round of the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship with a 74-63 first round win over The Scots of Arkansas’ Lyon College (27-7). Junior guard Krissy Karr scored 18 points while posting six assists and four steals. Senior guard Esther Lee added 17 points to help lead the Warriors to the win.

Sophomore post Aysia Shellmire tallied 12 points and six rebounds while freshman post Lauren McCoy notched a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds to go with three blocks. Sophomore guard Cora Chan collected seven points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The Warriors struggled in the first half, shooting just 30.3 percent (10 off 33) from the field. Lyon, on the other hand, made 14 of 29 from the floor (48.3 percent). The Scots led by as much as 10 points in the first half (29-19) and claimed a six-point advantage 36-30 at intermission.

“The first half was a bit of a struggle because they were hedging our guards hard,” noted Lee. “We couldn’t seem to get good looks.”

“We played a very good Lyon team and we had our backs against the wall for a majority of the game,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “I’m so proud of how we stuck with it, kept fighting and kept believing.

“There was one point that I could tell we started to get frustrated. I called timeout and we talked about it and said, ‘we are problem solvers, we are fighters, we are going to figure this out, we just can’t get frustrated.’ I didn’t see us get frustrated the rest of the game. We stayed positive – then entered Esther Lee.

In the first half, the Warriors missed all-seven attempts from three-point range. But with 15:15 remaining in the second half, Lee connected for the first of the team’s eight second-half three-pointers in 10 attempts.

Lee’s first long-range bucket made the score 43-39 in favor of the Scots. Once the lid was off the basket, the Warriors’ deficit disappeared in short order. Lee was responsible for five of the three-pointers with Karr, Celina Gougis and Cora Chan each adding a three of their own.

Lyon’s Taylor Grigg (8 points) answered back with a three-pointer for the Scots, but Karr scored from beyond the arc on the Warriors next possession to make it 46-42. With 12:39 to play, Lee struck again, making the score 47-45. Just 38 seconds later, Gougis hit her three, giving the Warriors a 48-47 advantage – their first lead in more than 30 minutes.

Jamie Jackson (18 points, 8 rebounds) briefly restored the lead to Lyon with two free throws before Lee’s third three of the game gave Westmont the lead for good.

“The more we stayed composed, the better looks we got,” said Lee. “A lot of credit to the posts, because they were o-boarding like crazy. That really sparked us and helped us to stay in it and stay composed. Our posts set really good screens for people to get open. Knocking down the shots is only half the part. Your teammates getting you open – that is the hard part.”

“I am so proud of Esther,” said Moore. “Both our seniors (Lee and Gougis) were starters on the 2013 national championship team. One of those seniors – Esther – didn’t start tonight. Two years ago when she came to this program, if something like that had happened, she would not have responded like she did.

“She was out all this week with an injury and missed practice. We had a conversation with her and talked about the fact that we were going to start with the group that had practiced all week but that she was going to come off the bench and impact this game and help this team win. She totally bought into it and did it to the best of her ability. When you have an all-American that comes off the bench, you are in a pretty good situation. She is one of the best shooters in the country and she showed it tonight. I am so proud of her and what she did.”

After the game, a visibly emotional Moore expressed great satisfaction with her players.

“I am really proud of the maturity and growth of the players,” said Moore. “That is why I coach. It is not about the win, it is about what I saw in them that it took to get the win. To see that kind of growth is what I am proud of. That is what is going to help them be successful in life. That is the most exciting part about this win for me – not that we won, but how we got the win and the character my team showed in order to get that.”

That maturity was reflected in comments made by Gougis on the day before the game.

“We are confident and determined,” said the senior guard. “We decided to try and play for something that is bigger than ourselves. Our motto is ‘She before me.’ That is motivating us right now. When people feel like they can’t go any longer or when things get hard, that pushes us and gets us playing for each other.”

The Warriors will take that confidence into the second round where they will meet Westminster (26-2) of Utah. The Griffins, who are the top-seeded team in the Warrior’s quadrant of the bracket, earned their spot in the second round with a 53-38 win over Cumberland (Tenn.)

“We have a good system in place for knowing how to handle a short turnaround,” said Moore after the game. “We are already in that process. I know that we will go into tomorrow’s game prepared. We are excited about the challenge. We are playing a one seed and we have no pressure – everything to gain and nothing to lose. We are going to go in with a lot of confidence because we know we can play with anyone in the country when we play well.”