Hot-shooting Cardinals win NJCAA opener

SALINA, Kan. – A great shooter once said, “When in doubt, rain 3-pointers.”

Since there was only room for one flock of Cardinals on Tuesday in the winner’s bracket of the NJCAA women’s national tournament, that’s what North Idaho College did.

The eighth-seeded Cardinals from NIC shot 53 percent from 3-point land – including six of their first eight to start the second half – and outrebounded the taller Cardinals from Trinity Valley (Texas) to secure a 63-53 opening-round win.

North Idaho was almost as accurate from 3-point range (9 for 17) as it was from the free-throw line (6 of 11), and even better than it was from the floor overall (41 percent). Nine of the 10 NIC Cardinals who played scored at least two points.

“We shot the ball real well from outside, and that was big difference tonight,” NIC head coach Chris Carlson said. “We’ve shot the 3s really well this year, over 40 percent as a team and we led our region, so it’s a big part of our game.”

Natalie Nichols scored the first five points for North Idaho, and Lindsay Wimett later added four in a row to give her Cardinals a 14-8 lead midway through a slow first half.

After Trinity Valley turned four straight NIC turnovers into an 11-0 run and a 19-14 lead, North Idaho fired back nine unanswered points to reclaim a two-point halftime cushion.

Despite dressing only eight players, Trinity spent most of the first half in a full-court trap after each made basket, but the press produced only nine NIC turnovers.

“Offensively we execute and play together really well, and we knew if we got caught up in their press and their style of game, things would be tough,” Carlson said. “We had to do the best we could to control the tempo of the game and break their press.”

Wimett opened the second half with back-to-back 3s. After Bianca Cheever and Lindsey Stark each downed a 3-pointer, Shaneya Valdez hit consecutive 3s to give North Idaho a 48-38 lead with 9:36 remaining.

Trinity Valley center Jasmine Nelson kept her team in the game by scoring eight points in the paint while NIC’s sharpshooters fired at will. A DeShawna Banks 3-pointer pulled Trinity within 50-47 with 5 minutes to play.

Nelson posted game highs of 18 points and 14 rebounds, but she and her ninth-seeded Cardinals missed 7 of 10 free throws during a critical second-half stretch that could’ve made things interesting.

With North Idaho up five in the final minute, Cheever drained yet another clutch 3 as the shot clock dripped toward zero, putting NIC safely out of reach with 45 seconds remaining.

“I think the offensive execution and also our defense made the difference,” Carlson said. “I have to give credit to our defense, because that’s how we beat Southern Idaho (in regionals) and I think we really locked things up defensively tonight when we had to.

“Every time (Trinity) made a run and cut into our lead, it seems like we’d hit a big shot and then get stops at the right time on defense.”

Cheever and Wimett led North Idaho with 14 points apiece, and Cheever completed a double-double with a dozen rebounds. Nichols finished with 11, and NIC improves to 26-7 as it prepares for top-ranked and undefeated Jefferson (Mo.) College on Thursday at 6 p.m.

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