SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Top-ranked Concordia has made itself comfortable of late against top five teams that reside in Sioux City, Iowa. The Bulldogs won on the road for the second straight time against a team ranked among the nation's top five by escaping with a 72-65 victory at No. 5 Briar Cliff on Wednesday night.
Concordia improved to 11-0 overall and 5-0 in GPAC action while Briar Cliff fell for the first time and is now 10-1 overall in 4-1 in the conference. The NAIA powers were two of seven undefeated squads entering the night. The Bulldogs were also the first team to defeat Morningside, taking down the fourth-ranked Mustangs 80-76 on Dec. 1.
"You have to give credit to Briar Cliff," Bulldog head coach Drew Olson said. "We got up on them by 16 and they kept clawing back. They hit some big shots and took the lead a couple times late in the game, but I just love how composed our team was down the stretch."
Last season's GPAC Defensive Player of the Year Katie Rich came up huge down the stretch with two steal of her six steals in the final minute-and-a-half. The first one thwarted Briar Cliff's attempt to regain the lead. The Chargers watched as the senior guard from Tilden, Neb., picked the pocket of Alex Fuller and raced to the other end for a layup that extended Concordia's lead to 68-65 with 1:21 remaining. Rich continued to be a pest with another theft to maintain the Bulldog advantage with 36 seconds left.
"It was awesome," Olson said of Rich's defensive effort. "She wasn't at that level the entire game. She let Kelsey Evans get a couple 3-pointers. But when we put her back in with about four minutes left, she honestly took over the game. She had a couple steals, a couple big rebounds and a block. It's cool to see someone take over on the defensive end."
Rich's second steal led to Laboda getting fouled and making one of two free throws for a 70-65 lead with 28 seconds to play. After the Charger's Kela Cihak missed the front end of a one-and-one on the next possession, Concordia scored quickly off the ensuing out-of-bounds play with layup by Laboda to beat the press and salt away another Bulldog victory.
Senior guard Beth Kohmetscher poured in all of her team high 14 points in the first half in allowing Concordia to gain a 42-28 halftime advantage. The Bulldogs pushed the lead to as many as 16 points in the second half before Briar Cliff came roaring back with a 21-4 spurt that gave the Chargers a 63-62 lead with 4:30 left.
That's when players like Rich and sophomores Kelsey Hizer and Bailey Morris shined under pressure.
"Bailey got us going again with some big jumpers to calm our team down," Olson said. "I can't say enough about Kelsey Hizer. This was her first real game back from the injury. She filled in for Tracy Peitz and did a great job on Evans."
Laboda nearly tallied a second-straight double-double as she ended up with 11 points and nine rebounds. Morris chipped in 12 points and four steals while Jenna Lehmann added 10 points and three blocks. The Chargers were paced by the 16 points of Evans.
Both teams were without a key player as Peitz and Briar Cliff's Sara Reeves sat out on Wednesday due to injuries.
The Bulldogs are now 3-0 against ranked opponents with wins over then No. 4 Morningside, Briar Cliff and No. 23 College of Saint Mary. Concordia has also won 20-straight games against GPAC opponents, including eight in a row on the road. With a 5-0 conference mark, the Bulldogs are currently alone in first place atop the GPAC.
Concordia has won three consecutive games against Briar Cliff having swept the season series last season in a pair of closely contested games. The two GPAC title contenders are used to classic games that go down to the wire no matter the home team.
"We could play this game in Mexico and it would be the same game," Olson said. "Great game with two great teams."
The Bulldogs come back home on Saturday for a 2 p.m. game versus Dakota Wesleyan (8-3, 2-2 GPAC). Tiger junior forward Kim Johnson has been named the GPAC Player of the Week two-consecutive weeks