WALLA WALLA – The Whitworth women’s basketball team secured the first NCAA Division III tournament victory in program history by pulling away from George Fox 71-51 Friday at Whitman College.
The win came just six days after the Pirates cut down the nets after stunning then-top-ranked Whitman in the Northwest Conference tournament championship game on the same Sherwood Athletic Center floor.
“There’s nothing like playing in the (Whitworth) Fieldhouse,” said Pirates guard Kayla Johnson, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds. “But I think we have a good feel here.”
The 24th-ranked Pirates (21-7) are 3-2 at Sherwood this season. Their tournament life depends on one last win in Walla Walla: Whitworth will play Whitman – a 106-51 winner over Chapman – tonight for a berth in the sectional round of 16.
In securing its third victory in less than three weeks against the 14th-ranked Bruins, Whitworth looked comfortable in establishing an early lead and holding it for the first 14-plus minutes of the game.
The Pirates looked composed in responding to a George Fox run – and temporary loss of that lead – by closing the half on a 5-0 run.
And they looked downright cozy in crunch time, outscoring the Bruins 28-7 over the final 7:26. The Pirates forced seven of George Fox’s 21 turnovers in that span and made their final 12 free throws.
“That’s what we’ve been doing so well,” Johnson said. “Our ability to get stops consecutively gives us a spark. Our defense gave us the energy we needed.”
Johnson had 12 points to fuel Whitworth’s finishing kick.
“She was amazing,” said Whitworth forward Kendra Lahua, who made a 3-pointer to open the game and tossed in another 3 for a 10-point lead at the 3-minute mark of the second half. “I love the way she pushes the ball and runs the court.”
George Fox’s Megan Arnoldy tied the game at 28-all by scoring the first basket of the second half, but Whitworth’s Lexie Zappone hit a 3-pointer and then, after a Johnson steal, scored on a drive. Whitworth would not trail again.
Whitworth protected the lead by taking care of the ball, committing just two second-half turnovers, and working methodically through its half-court sets until it glimpsed daylight in the Bruins’ zone.
“We’re just really excited to win the game,” Whitworth coach Helen Higgs said. “It’s the first NCAA tournament win for our program, so we’re really excited about that. I was really excited that we came out and performed right from the start and kind of dictated the game.”