FULTON, Mo. — Down just six at halftime, the Webster University women’s basketball team had to be feeling good about its chances to upset heavily favored Westminster College for the second straight season in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
But in the second half, turnovers and poor shooting by Webster and stellar defense by Westminster squashed the Gorloks’ upset bid. The Blue Jays held Webster scoreless during the game’s final 12 minutes and 40 seconds en route to their 69-34 SLIAC semifinal win on Feb. 24 in Fulton, Mo.
“We missed a couple shots and got down,” Webster coach Jordan Olufson said. “When you don’t make shots and the other team makes shots, it’s a hard thing to handle. We didn’t handle it real well. They made a run — instead of fighting back, we kind of just laid down. By the time we made a run, we were dug deep a little too much.”
Last season, the third-seeded Gorloks upended top-seeded Westminster 74-58 in the SLIAC championship game. Even though the setup for this year’s matchup was similar, Westminster coach Tracey Braden insisted last season’s game had no bearing on how her squad prepared for Webster this time around.
“I’m going to be honest — we have not talked about that because this is our focus,” Braden said. “Our focus is this team, this year. Last year is over and done with. Webster has a new team; we have a new team. This is a new opportunity. It’s not the same season or anything.
“So, other than focusing on Webster and that was who our opponent was, we didn’t even talk about last year. It was what do we need to do to put us in the position for where we want to be for Saturday.”
The No. 1-seeded Blue Jays (22-4, 14-2 SLIAC) went on to beat second-seeded Eureka College 60-54 in the SLIAC championship to earn their first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III tournament.
With the loss, Webster ended its season 12-14 overall and 10-6 in SLIAC play.
The No. 4-seeded Gorloks entered the conference tournament on a three-game winning streak and used the end-of-season momentum to jump ahead 8-5 early in their game at Westminster. The Blue Jays responded with a 16-5 run to take a 21-13 lead with 9:20 left in the first half.
Down 31-20, Webster closed the half on a 7-2 spurt and trailed only 33-27 at the break. Braden said that run by Webster had her team “shell-shocked,” and adjustments were in order for the second half.
“I told my team (at halftime), ‘We’re going to be OK, but we’ve got to get back to playing our style of ball and not their style of ball,’” Braden said. “We’ve got to take care of hitting free throws, hitting gimme shots, making sure we’re playing defense with our feet and not our hands. We were not taking advantage of some opportunities; we had to push the ball and run.”
In the second half, Westminster’s pressure defense caused all sorts of problems for the Gorloks’ attack. Webster shot 3 of 29 (10.3 percent) from the field and 0 of 10 from 3-point range. For the game, Webster made 11 of 48 field-goal attempts and 0 of 13 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Westminster outscored Webster 36-7 in the half and closed the game on a 19-0 run.
The Gorloks outrebounded Westminster for the game, but that was offset by 33 Webster turnovers, including 17 in the second half. Webster’s turnovers, combined with poor shooting, enabled the Blue Jays to run in transition and get easy layups on odd-man rushes. Westminster hit 43.8 percent of its second-half shots and made 40.3 percent of its shots for the game.
With the loss, seven Webster seniors — including Megan Willett (5.0 points per game), Loren Douglass (4.4 ppg) and Tori Fenemor (4.3 ppg) — had their careers come to an end. Douglass said she prepared for the Westminster game as if it was any other game.
“It wasn’t until after the game that you really realized it was the last time playing in a Webster uniform, and the last time I’ll play competitive basketball in my career,” Douglass said. “It was definitely an emotional locker room afterwards — that’s when everyone really started to realize that was it for us.”
Douglass said a high point for the seven seniors was when they helped Webster beat Westminster last season and put up a good showing in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
“You look at where the program was when we were all freshmen and where it is now, we’ve made great strides in the women’s basketball program,” Douglass said. “That’s definitely something to be proud of. The program is going to continue to grow and get better from where we left it this year.”
The group of seniors was the first class Olufson recruited to Webster. For that reason, and because the class compiled a 57-48 overall record and a 38-26 SLIAC record during the past four seasons, Olufson said the group holds a special place in his heart.
“We’ve had a lot of back-to-back great years,” Olufson said. “This year wasn’t the year we really wanted. But for a group that started 1-8 and finished 12-14, (I’m) very proud. We could have gave up and we didn’t. I’m very proud about that.”