No. 8 Concordia pays tribute to national title team in smothering of No. 10 Briar Cliff

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 20, 2024 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – A first half plagued by turnovers and little flow gave way to a beautiful second half from the perspective of the eighth-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team. With the 2018-19 national champions in attendance, the current Bulldogs pulled away from 10th-ranked Briar Cliff, 68-58, inside Friedrich Arena on Saturday (Jan. 20) afternoon. The visitors from Sioux City, Iowa, shot just 30.5 percent for the game.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad pushed its winning streak to seven while snapping a four-game series skid versus Briar Cliff. Concordia stands at 14-2 overall (10-2 GPAC).

“Defensively, I thought we were awesome,” Olson said. “We had a good gameplan and they started out 9-0, so probably wasn’t that good of a gameplan. Then our team kind of got tough and fought and competed. I thought they did a great job defensively the rest of the game from that point.

“In that halftime talk, we were able to make a couple adjustments offensively and our team executed really well. Then it comes down to stepping up and hitting shots, and we did. Sadie (Powell) hit a couple big ones, Taysha (Rushton) hit a couple big ones. We made enough plays to beat a really good team.”

In a theme that has often rung true this season, the Bulldogs were again a second half team. They dug a 9-0 hole right out of the gate and grinded through a sloppily-played first half (22 combined turnovers). As for Briar Cliff, it could not recover from the 9-0 third-quarter Concordia surge initiated by a Sammy Leu trey. As part of the run, Leu added another bucket in transition off the dish from Powell before Abby Heemstra and Powell struck for back-to-back buckets. The Bulldogs then led 41-30 with just over three minutes remaining in the third period.

The Chargers (12-5, 7-4 GPAC) have suddenly dropped four of five games in the month of January. They clawed back as close as six points in the final quarter, but they never found anything they could rely on with consistency against a buttoned-up Concordia man-to-man defense. Briar Cliff missed its first 13 field goal attempts of the third quarter. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Rushton slammed the door shut by draining treys on back-to-back possessions, moving the lead to 66-49.

Rushton got hot in the second half and led all players with 17 points (7-for-14 from the floor). The Midland, Texas, native has curled home 249 career 3-point field goals, putting her at No. 3 on the program’s all-time list. She had plenty of help from her teammates on Saturday. Powell collected 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists and Heemstra supplied 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. The red-hot Kendal Brigham posted eight points, five rebounds and three steals while Leu and Mackenzie Toomey chipped in with seven points apiece. Toomey also grabbed five rebounds and dropped three assists.

It wasn’t an offensive showing to write home about, but Concordia shot a respectable 44.8 percent from the floor and went 15-for-17 from the foul line. The Bulldogs also held a 39-36 rebound advantage while turnovers were even at 17 apiece. The real difference was what Concordia did on the defensive end. There were no starring offensive performances for Briar Cliff, which got a team high 13 points from Konnor Sudmann and Mallie McNair.

Said Powell, “Our No. 1 concern coming in here was stopping their transition offense. The last time we played them we kind of got burned a couple times. I think we were more together this game and limited their transition.”

At the first quarter break, the vast majority of the 2018-19 national championship team made an appearance on court as part of the recognition ceremony. All-Americans and program legends such as Taylor Cockerill, Philly Lammers and Quinn Wragge were among the turnouts. The ’18-19 team went 35-3 overall on its way to claiming the red banner that hangs on the west wall of Friedrich Arena.

Said Olson, “It’s awesome. I can’t wait to say hi to all of them. What a special team – a lot of special people, and I love them.”

The week of CIT is up next. Before hitting the road for Mequon, Wis., the Bulldogs will host Mount Marty (5-12, 1-10 GPAC) at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday. In the first meeting that took place in Yankton on Dec. 6, Concordia pulled away for a 77-57 win. The Bulldogs have won 15-straight series meetings with the Lancers.