Westmont picked up its defensive intensity in the third quarter and freshman Bailey Fong got hot from the three-point line, sparking the Warriors to a 63-49 win over Southern Oregon in a second-round women’s basketball game of the NAIA National Tournament on Wednesday night at Murchison Gym.
The victory sends Westmont to the tournament’s final rounds for the third consecutive year. The Warriors (25-3) will play No. 3-seeded Marian, Indiana in the Round of 16 on Monday in Sioux City, Iowa.
Westmont trailed 30-27 at halftime, but the Warriors took control of the game in the second half. They held the Raiders to just five field goals. They made 3 of 12 in the third quarter and were outscored 20-10.
Fong provided the offensive spark for Westmont, knocking down five three-pointers on seven attempts in the third period.
Fong was making just her second start of the season in place of Laila Saenz, the Warriors’ second-leading scorer who suffered an injury in Tuesday’s first-round win over Antelope Valley. She capitalized on the opportunity with a season-high 17 points and ignited a 12-0 run with three 3s in a span of two minutes to put Westmont up 41-33 and in control for good.
“Talk about balance at our guard position today,” exclaimed Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “That was incredible. From the outset of the year, as part of their identity, they wanted to be a team that would unite and rise.
“It is tough playing games and looking down the bench and seeing as many crutches as there are down there. However, we just have people who are ready to step up, that have worked super hard, and that are prepared to come in and make an impact. They know that their teammates believe in them and their coaches believe in them, regardless of what their role has been previously.”
The backcourt carried Westmont. All-American Stefanie Berberabe scored 17 points as did wing player Kate Goostrey. Fong, Berberabe and Goostrey were factors on defense, too, combining for eight steals.
But it wasn’t only the guards making an impact. Sydney Brown and Destiny Okonkwo controlled the paint for the Warriors. Okonkwo notched 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks while Brown added eight rebounds and two blocks.
“Our posts were just so gritty and tough and made some huge plays when we needed them,” noted Moore.
Westmont’s defense held Southern Oregon’s top scorers Kalei Iwami, Brianna Phiakhamngon and Kami Walk to just two buckets combined in the second half. The Raiders shot just 5 of 23 from the floor.
Phiakhamngon led Southern Oregon with 11 points.
Westmont heads to Sioux City on Friday.
“We want to finish well,” said Moore of heading out to the NAIA’s final site. “We want to finish the season well and finish our time in the NAIA well.”
This is Westmont’s final season in the NAIA. The athletic program is moving to NCAA Division 2 next school year.
“The NAIA National Tournament is an incredible experience and I wanted so badly for our players to experience it one more time,” said Moore.
The Westmont Warriors and Marian Knights will be meeting for the first time.
“We have a tough bracket and a tough game coming up,” said Moore. “Marian seems to be not just winning, but winning by significant margins. They are obviously an incredible basketball team. We will have to put our heads to it the next couple of days.”