INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – (Box Score) Fourth-seeded Westmont (Calif.) advances to its second Fab Four in the last three years, as the Warriors downed No. 2 Oklahoma Baptist, 83-81, in triple-overtime Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the 2015 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by Susan G. Komen Greater Kansas City. The 35th annual event is being played out inside the Independence Events Center.
The three extra periods ties the previous championship record for longest game set by Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) and Belmont (Tenn.) in 1996. Mary Hardin-Baylor won that original contest, 94-90.
With the win, Westmont advances to the semifinals for the second time in program history – the previous trip coming in the Warrior’s 2013 national championship season. The squad has a date with defending national champion Oklahoma City, which rolled through Great Falls (Mont.), 88-52, earlier in the day. The two programs have met once previously in the national championship (2001).
“It’s unbelievable,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “The range of emotions that went into one game. I’m just so proud of how gritty my team was, and really it was both teams. Both teams showed unbelievable fight tonight. My girls refused to give up. Lauren Sende’s play epitomized that. She didn’t make the first one, but she stayed with it and made the second one.”
With under a minute to play in an NAIA championship record-tying third overtime, Kristin Karr of Westmont completed a 3-point play after being fouled on a runner in the lane to give the Warriors a one-point lead with 33 seconds left. Oklahoma Baptist had three shot attempts on their next possession, including two from point-blank range, but they all missed the mark. Westmont sealed the win at the free throw line.
“She’s (Karr) a great player,” said Moore. “I think that time after time she has shown the ability to make big plays.”
Overall, Westmont shot 38.2 percent from the floor in the game. Karr was the team leader with 24 points, while Aysia Shellmire had 17 points and Esther Lee added 14 points, respectively.
The Warriors weak spots in the game came in the turnover category, as the Bison’s high-pressure defense forced 25 miscues, and free throw shooting (59.3 percent).
“They (Oklahoma Baptist) are a very good defensive team,” Moore said. “They kept swarming our ballhandlers and our scorers. We just kept saying just stay with it. We had to play that much better defense, because we surrendered so many possessions on the offensive end.”
Oklahoma Baptist once again started slow offensively. The Bison shot a dismal 27.3 percent (9-for-33) from the field in the opening half. Thanks to a strong defensive effort that forced 11 Westmont turnovers in the first half and a 7-for-8 effort at the foul line, Oklahoma Baptist trailed by only one-point at the break.
Westmont was slightly more efficient on the offensive side of the ball in the opening frame, shooting 35.5 percent from the field, including four 3-pointers. Shellmire was a bright spot. The sophomore score 12 points – three points more than her average through two games at the national championship – and grabbed eight boards.
Small spurts of offense led to five lead changes during the period. Neither club held more than a six-point advantage during the frame.
Westmont seized the early momentum in the second half, racing out to a game-high 49-35 lead with just under 13 minutes left.
However, like they did against Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) in the second round, Oklahoma Baptist began to chip away at the deficit. Raquel Dudzevich picked key moment to hit only her second basket of the game, as the junior sunk a contested jumper from the top of the key to give Oklahoma Baptist a 64-62 lead with 14 seconds left in regulation. Dudzevich scored only four points in the game – two in each half.
However, after a timeout, Westmont forward Lauren Sende – a freshman on Westmont’s 2013 title team – answered the call. The junior missed her first attempt to tie the game, but was able to tip the rebound into cylinder just as the buzzer sounded to send the game to extra time.
The first overtime was back-and-forth with neither team gaining an edge. Westmont had an opportunity for the final shot as time expired, but failed to get it off before the buzzer sounded.
Westmont again had a chance to win in the second overtime. Cora Chan gathered a rebound off an Oklahoma Baptist miss and drove the length of the floor. Her runner fell short, while a rushed put-back attempt careened off of the side of the backboard.
Charity Fowler paced Oklahoma Baptist with 25 points – her 17th career 20-plus point performance and eighth this season.
The loss drops Oklahoma Baptist (27-6) to 1-5 all-time in the quarterfinals.