BILLINGS, Mont. – [BOX SCORE] In a quarterfinal battle between 2013 national champion Westmont (Calif.) and 2016 champion MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.), one-seed Westmont downed three-seed MNU 65-51 to punch their ticket to the semifinal round of the 2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship presented by Wells Fargo.
Westmont took control on the game’s first basket, a layup by Lauren McCoy. The Warriors stayed in control and gradually built a double-digit lead. MidAmerica Nazarene only managed 10 points in the opening quarter and Westmont led 23-10 after 10 minutes.
Westmont maintained their double-digit lead until the 7:18 mark of the second quarter when the Pioneer’s Alisha Washington picked off an errant Westmont pass and scored a basket that cut the Warrior’s lead to 20-29.
One possession later, MNU’s Tristin Wicks scored on a 15-footer to trim Westmont’s lead to seven, 22-29. A pair of free throws from the Pioneer’s Lyndsee Johnson cut the lead to six, with 2:30 left in the first half. Westmont outscored MNU 7- 4 in the half’s final minutes to lead 43-34 at the break.
While the first half was a bit of an offensive show for the two teams, it was anything but that in the third quarter. MidAmerica Nazarene outscored the Warriors 9-7 in the quarter and at the 3:11 mark of the quarter, had cut Westmont’s lead to just two. The Warriors then responded with a 5-0 run to lead 50-43 after three quarters.
“Defense has been the foundation of this program for a really long time,” Moore said. “I said from the beginning that this could be the best defensive team I’ve ever coached, which is saying a lot because we’ve led the nation in scoring defense a number of different years. I think we’ve played into that and the team has really owned that and wanted to do that.”
The Pioneers opened the fourth quarter with a mini four-point run and cut the Westmont lead to three but that was as close as MNU would get.
For every Pioneer surge to get closer, Westmont had an answer. “Our girls have been through so much this year” Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore said. “From fires and evacuations near campus to mudslides. I think it really has prepared us to deal with adversity on the court. We don’t get flustered easily. I think that helps us in those tense situations to continue to have fun and to continue to believe in each other.”
MNU had lost their leading scorer for the tournament, Alisha Washington to injury at the start of the quarter and then the game’s leading scorer Tristin Wicks fouled out with 5:52 remaining.
Westmont took advantage of Pioneer turnovers combined with accurate free-throw shooting, to seal their trip to the semifinals.
MidAmerica Nazarene ends their season at 27-6. Despite fouling out, Wicks led the Pioneers with 16 points, the only MNU player to score in double figures.
Westmont improves to 24-6 on the season and was led by Lauren McCoy with 13 points. McCoy also had 2 big steals in the final few minutes to keep the Pioneers at bay.
“The relentless effort you see from Lauren McCoy is just a microcosm of what we do,” Moore added, “It just oozes out to her teammates during practice and pretty soon everyone learns how to play with that kind of motor.”
Westmont will now play Monday, March 19 at 8 p.m. against the winner of four-seed Waylon Baptist (Texas) vs. one-seed Vanguard (Calif.) quarterfinal game.