Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
MCMINNVILLE, Ore. – The Pacific Lutheran University women's basketball team was tied with host Linfield College with 41 ticks remaining on Saturday but the Wildcats tallied the final four points to escape with the 58-54 decision in a Northwest Conference clash inside Ted Wilson Gymnasium. Both teams battled back and forth from start in a contest with three lead changes and four ties.
Linfield (9-8, 3-5 NWC) jumped ahead early on its home floor, where they've only lost twice this season. The Wildcats used a strong finish in the first quarter to gain control before the Lutes (1-16, 0-8 NWC) countered with one of their best defensive spurts of the season. After scoring 20 points in the first, Linfield was held to just six in the second quarter. The Lutes rallied to take the lead on a Julia Berenson jumper with 52 seconds left before halftime but the hosts ultimately held a 26-25 advantage heading into the break.
The second half seemed like a repeat of the first. Linfield scored the first 11 points of the third quarter, and looked poised to run away with the lead. However, the Lutes scored nine points in the final minutes of the quarter and proceeded on an 8-2 run to start the fourth, shrinking what was once a 15 point deficit down to just three off a layup from Lacey Nicholson with 4:56 remaining.
The Lutes pressed on and tied the game with just under three minutes to play on a Marleisha Cox layup. The Wildcats took the lead for good on a pair of free throws with 41 seconds left and the Lutes couldn't retaliate on their end of the floor, misfiring on their final three shots and falling 58-54.
"We had some different players that provided big sparks at critical times," head coach Jennifer Childress said. "Julia Berenson really made an impact off the bench."
Berenson scored nine points in just 11 minutes of action while also grabbing four rebounds, two steals, and a block to lead the Lute bench. Lacey Nicholson scored a team-high 15 points while securing five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Additionally, Kaelyn Voss scored 10 points and Kristin Sturdivan added nine. Ultimately, it was a return to the team effort and energy shown earlier in the season, which made for a big step in the right direction.
"We played much better as a team tonight, we were moving the ball well, seeing the open player and taking high percentage shots," Childress said. "Linfield played a great game and finished with some key offensive rebounds that hurt us down the stretch."
The Lutes turn their attention to Pacific University, welcoming the Boxers to Olson Gymnasium on Friday night at 6 p.m. to open the second half of conference play.
"We are looking forward to the second round of conference, as our inexperienced players now know what is coming our way."