SEWARD, Neb. – After pushing both No. 8 Morningside and No. 14 Northwestern to the wire in losses last week, the 19th-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team has shifted focus to Wednesday’s home matchup with Hastings. This will be the final contest of the month of January. The Bulldogs will have the weekend off due to the cancellation of the Concordia Invitational Tournament. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad stands at 12-9 overall and at 9-6 in league play.
By the numbers
· In the current GPAC standings, the Bulldogs reside in sixth place but are just a half-game behind three teams tied for third place: Briar Cliff (9-5), Dakota Wesleyan (9-5) and Dordt (9-5). Morningside (13-1) remains in the driver’s seat as it looks to defend its 2020-21 GPAC regular season title. The overall résumé remains solid for Concordia, which owns three wins over teams currently ranked in the NAIA top 25: No. 9 Wayland Baptist University (Texas), No. 14 Northwestern and No. 21 Dakota State University (S.D.). In the official calculations released by the NAIA (prior to last week’s action), the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule ranked fifth best in the nation. Concordia has played six games against the current NAIA top 10.
· Struggles on the offensive end were the main culprit in preventing the Bulldogs from upsetting Morningside on Jan. 19. Concordia fought back admirably from a 15-point second quarter deficit and forced overtime in what resulted in a 68-62 loss in front of this season’s largest home crowd. Kayla Luebbe emerged with a game high 20 points (equaled a career high) on 9-for-10 shooting from the floor. Taysha Rushton got going late in the game and finished with 13 points. After a slow start, Mustang star Sierra Mitchell heated up and led her side with 16 points. Morningside has now won each of the past six meetings with the Bulldogs.
· A seven-game series win steak for Concordia was snapped in the 74-68 loss at Northwestern on Jan. 22. The Bulldogs played the Red Raiders to a 62-62 tie through the first 34 minutes before the home team buckled down defensively. Rushton led the charge for Concordia in racking up 26 points on 10-for-22 shooting from the floor. Mackenzie Toomey (10 points and seven rebounds) was the only other Bulldog to reach double figures. Off the bench, Luebbe completed a rock solid week with nine points and three rebounds. Both teams were off the mark from 3-point range – 4-for-22 for Concordia and 4-for-20 for Northwestern. The Red Raiders got a strong performance from Taylor VanderVelde, who notched 16 points and 13 rebounds.
· Rushton accumulated 39 points on the week. Her 26-point performance at Northwestern marked the 12th time in her career that she has reached 20 or more in a game. Her single game career high remains the 32 points she scored in this season’s opener against Bellevue. At 16.8 points per game, Rushton ranks tied for third among GPAC players in that category, trailing only Doane’s Mak Hatcliff (23.1) and Dordt’s Ashtyn Veerbeek (18.7). Through 51 career collegiate games, Rushton has amassed 781 points. That total ranks No. 1 among current Bulldogs. The team’s next leading scorer after Rushton is Sadie Powell at 8.3 points per game.
· It isn’t rocket science. When the shots have fallen, Concordia has shown it can beat really good teams and even blow some of them out (like the 90-58 home win over Dakota Wesleyan). Over the current three-game skid, the Bulldogs have shot below 40 percent each time out. Even with some of those struggles, Concordia ranks second among GPAC teams in scoring offense (75.4 ppg). In terms of shooting percentages, the Bulldogs sport conference rankings of seventh in overall field goal percentage (.411), sixth in 3-point field goal percentage (.310) and eighth in free throw percentage (.681).
· Luebbe has been a real challenge to contain once she catches the ball in the post. She’s shooting 56.7 percent from the floor and averaging 8.0 points per game. The matchup against Morningside has often been a favorable one for the native of Bee, Neb. Her 20-point game last week tied the career high she also had in the regular season meeting at Morningside last season. In addition, Luebbe posted 15 points on 7-for-7 shooting versus Morningside at the 2021 national tournament. Luebbe has now scored seven or more points in each of the last six games. She is the team leader with 17 blocked shots this season.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Hastings, which is attempting to ensure it remains in a top-eight position in the GPAC standings (in order to qualify for the conference tournament). Since a 6-1 start, the Broncos are 4-9 over their last 13 games, however, last week’s 74-50 thumping of Dakota Wesleyan was an encouraging sign. Head Coach Jina Douglas’ top players include Riley Clavel (11.2), Taylor Beacom (11.1 ppg) and Ali Smith (10.2). Through 20 games, Hastings is averaging 70.3 points while allowing 68.8 points per game. In this season’s meeting on Dec. 11, the Bulldogs were sharp while shooting 54.7 percent in a 91-69 Concordia win. The Bulldogs have won five series meetings in a row.
Concordia will get back to playing twice in the GPAC next week, which features a trip to Midland on Feb. 2 and then a home game with Dordt on Feb. 5.