WBK: Westmont falls to defending champs in NAIA semis

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – Defending national champion Oklahoma City continued its quest for a second-straight national title Monday night with a 77-57 win against No. 4 Westmont in the Fab Four of the 2015 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship.

“It’s unbelievable, especially when you have six new players and only five returners,” said Oklahoma City head coach Latricia Trammell. “The toughness that they’ve shown through adversity – I’m really proud of this team.”

With the win, the Stars (29-2) improve to 11-2 all-time in the championship semifinals and will have a date with either No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) or No. 1 Campbellsville (Ky.) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CDT. Oklahoma City is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since former member Union (Tenn.) accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010.

The first half was even for the opening 15 minutes, until a 6-0 mini-run, which included back-to-back buckets by Neal, gave Oklahoma City a 31-22 lead with 3:25 remaining. A Kristin Karr 3-pointer quickly cut the deficit back to six, however Oklahoma City answered the call, outscoring Westmont 7-3 over the final two minutes of the period to take a 38-28 lead into the break.

The Stars connected on seven of their final nine shots in the frame en route to a 47.2 percent (17-for-36) effort from the field. Typical to Westmont’s style of offense at this year’s tournament, the Warriors shot 33.3 percent from long range in the first half. This performance helped overcome a 33.3 percent (11-for-33) first half field goal percentage.

Karr led all first half scorers with 14 points – four points shy of her 18-point average at this year’s championship. Oklahoma City’s Neal was the only other player in double-digits with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

It appeared that Oklahoma City was ready to roll to the championship for the third time in the last four years after the Stars opened the half with eight-straight points, including a pair of 3-point plays from Rateska Brown and Marisha Wallace, to make it 46-28 advantage.

Westmont, which is appearing in the Fab Four for the second time in the last three seasons, made a run at it midway through the second half, pulling within four (54-50) by virtue of a 17-4 run. A pair of free throws by Lauren McCoy and a steal-and-score 3-pointer by Esther Lee sparked the stretch, which spanned nearly six minutes of the half.

Oklahoma City, which had surrendered 20-plus point leads twice in the early rounds of the championship, seemed unfazed by the Westmont surge. The Stars went on to outscore the Warriors 23-7 over the course of the final 9:53 en route to the 20-point victory.

“Oklahoma City is the most talented team in the NAIA,” said Westmont coach Kirsten Moore. “We knew that we had a big challenge tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of how my team competed. Every time OK City made a run, we answered, cutting a huge lead to four.”

Karr ended the game with a game-high 24 points for the Warriors. She also had Westmont’s only two steals.

The loss ends Westmont’s season at 27-7.