Dogged zone D keys rally past previously unbeaten Northwestern

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 4, 2021 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – At the rate it was going, the 25th-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team was doomed to be tripped up in a shootout like the one played three days earlier at No. 10 Morningside. Not this time. The Bulldogs’ zone defense tightened the screws, Taysha Rushton enjoyed a monster second half and Concordia claimed an 84-82 overtime upset of 12th-ranked Northwestern on Saturday (Dec. 4). In addition, Sadie Powell scored all nine of her points in the extra session.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad already feels like it’s battle-tested. Ten games into the season, the Bulldogs (6-4, 3-3 GPAC) have played seven teams that are currently ranked in the NAIA top 25.

“I thought switching to zone kind of helped keep them in front of us and know where their shooters were,” Olson said. “I thought we did a better job in transition defensively, too, and then our players just stepped up and hit some really big shots. They kept their composure. There were countless number of times where they would go on a big run and yet we were finding ways to respond. Even at the end, little things happened and we kept our composure. I’m just so proud of them.”

Concordia trailed by as many as 11 points and stared down a 66-57 deficit to begin the fourth quarter. Spurred by Rushton’s surge (15 points in the second half), the Bulldogs opened the fourth on an 8-0 run and eventually tied the score, 71-71, in the final minute of regulation. On the next Red Raider possession, Maddie Jones drained a trey only to have her clutch jumper answered on the other end by Rushton. The triple by Rushton wound up forcing overtime.

In a stressful affair, Concordia survived Northwestern possessions at the end of regulation and overtime. It was Powell time in overtime. She sank two crucial triples and came away with a steal. Powell’s rebound after the Red Raiders missed a free throw with a chance to tie in the final few seconds of overtime helped pull this one out of the fire.

“Taysha hit a big three when we needed it,” Olson said. “We kind of knew Sadie would be the right person out there because of the way they were defending us. She was ready for the challenge and stepped up and hit some big shots to give us the lead.”

In the post, Rylee Pauli (17 points and five rebounds) put forth her usual gritty effort while leading the Bulldogs in scoring. Rushton added five assists and four steals to her stat line and Bailey Conrad dropped eight dimes. Conrad posted 13 points while making 7-of-8 from the foul line. In addition, Abby Heemstra collected nine points and four rebounds and Mackenzie Toomey chipped in eight points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

It took every bit of those performances to outlast the Red Raiders (10-1, 4-1 GPAC), who got 17 or more points from four of their starters: Devyn Kemble (20), Molly Schany (18), Jada Cunningham (17) and Maddie Jones (17). Northwestern has the look of a team capable of winning the GPAC regular season title. After three quarters of hot shooting, the Red Raiders went cold in the fourth (17.6 percent).

Said Pauli, “We knew going into the game it was going to be a hard-fought battle. Each quarter we had to give it our all and make those little plays, and play hard for each other … in the zone, it was about just talking and getting out on the shooters.”

There will be more of these games to come against highly rated opponents, but Concordia will be ready. Said Olson, “It’s stressful. It’s a grind, but it’s awesome.”

The Bulldogs will play at home for the final time in the calendar year 2021 when they host Mount Marty (1-8, 1-4 GPAC) at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday. Concordia has won each of the past 10 meetings with the Lancers, who picked up their first win of this season in a 74-67 final last week over Midland.