RIVER FOREST, Ill. – Looking to get right again, the seventh-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team overcame its shooting struggles to claim a 64-52 victory in the opening game of the 65th annual Concordia Invitational Tournament. The Bulldogs survived a second-half push from Concordia University Ann Arbor with a dominant fourth quarter that made for anticlimactic final minutes.
Tenth-year head coach Drew Olson’s program has won each of its last five CIT games following championships in 2014 and 2015. CUNE now stands at 16-6 overall.
“It really wasn’t pretty for a while. We just couldn’t hit anything,” Olson said. “The layups weren’t going down, but I’m so proud of how we came out and fought. If you look back at the last game (loss to Doane) they could have easily hung their heads, but they came out and battled and played great team defense. We hit the shots that we needed to late. I felt like every single time they took the lead, Quinn Wragge was the one who would hit a big shot to get the lead back for us.”
The Bulldogs saw an 11-point first-half lead vanish before they recovered in the latter stages. Freshman Quinn Wragge killed CUAA (11-11) runs with key buckets and Becky Mueller got white hot. Mueller delivered back-breaking triples on back-to-back possessions in the final stanza to sink a feisty Cardinal bunch coached by CUNE alum Thad Sankey. Mueller had 10 points during a stretch of less than two-and-a-half minutes as the lead bulged from three to 12.
Shelby Quinn’s knack for tracking down loose balls led to one of the biggest buckets in the fourth quarter. With just over five minutes remaining, Quinn grabbed a strong rebound a tossed the ball to Brenleigh Daum for a trey that doubled the lead from three to six. Quinn pulled down nine rebounds and swiped three steals.
The junior guard helped aid a defensive effort that stymied CUAA into 27.3 percent (15-for-55) shooting and a 5-for-23 (.217) performance from beyond the arc. Those numbers were lemonade on a summer day for a squad that had allowed 27 3-point field goals over its previous two games. Mueller and company did not allow those frustrations to spill over into CIT.
“It’s huge. I love it,” Mueller said of the CIT atmosphere. “It’s just so much fun to play in with our fans and other people cheering against you. The positive atmosphere was huge for our team.”
Mueller finished with a game high 19 points while going 4-for-9 from long range and snaring eight rebounds. An aggressive Wragge posted 15 points. In her first start of the season, junior Devin Edwards chipped in nine points and five rebounds. Daum added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Sankey’s crew got the majority of its points from two players – Kari Borowiak (17) and Brianna Rowe (16), who combined for 33 points. However, the rest of the team made a combined seven field goals and the Cardinals were outrebounded, 51-34.
The Cardinals briefly held a lead in the fourth quarter when Michelle Murnen knocked down a jumper to edge CUAA in front, 42-41. The Bulldogs responded with an 8-1 run that allowed them to exert control. More than anything, defense paved the way to victory.
“We realized that it’s got to be all five on the floor,” Olson said. “Our gaps were so much better. Every time they drove we were there to help. Quinn did an excellent job helping off clog the lane. It was a great team effort.”
The Bulldogs will attempt to capture their 26th CIT championship in program history when they take on Concordia Wisconsin at 5 p.m. on Saturday in River Forest, Ill. In last year’s title game, CUNE trounced CUW, 89-37, in Ann Arbor, Mich.