SEWARD, Neb. – After a slow opening few minutes, the ninth-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team turned on the jets, ambushing No. 6 Saint Xavier University (Ill.), 81-64, inside Walz Arena on Friday night. The visiting Cougars had entered the 15th annual classic with a 2-0 record that included a road win over top-ranked Saint Francis University (Ind.) to begin the season.
By claiming victory in its home opener, head coach Drew Olson’s squad rattled off its third-straight win over a top-20 opponent to ring in the 2014-15 season.
“Both teams played really well,” Olson said. “I give a lot of credit to them. They carved us up with their press early on. We had to adjust and change some things. Our kids did a nice job of switching defenses.
“Our depth is one of our strengths. Saint Xavier is a really nice team. Their starting five is very good. No. 10 (Morgan) Stuut is one of the best players in the country. I thought Kelsey Hizer and Tracy Peitz did a very nice job of bothering her.”
With Becky Mueller missing Friday’s contest due to injury, senior Jericca Pearson stepped into the starting lineup and played big inside (18 points and 11 rebounds). She teamed with Bailey Morris (21 points, three steals), Tracy Peitz (14 points, three steals) and Brenleigh Daum (11 points) to give Concordia four double-figure scorers as part of another balanced offensive attack.
But it’s that dogged defense that continues to drive opponents crazy. Concordia held two-time All-American and reigning Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year Morgan Stuut to 16 points on 6-for-21 shooting. The Bulldogs forced 20 Saint Francis turnovers while holding the Cougars to 30.6 percent shooting.
“Our goal is to get up in everybody’s face and not let them through the middle to get stops,” Pearson said. “That’s what we kept doing. If we didn’t get it done in the backcourt, we got it done in the halfcourt. It just worked really well for us today.”
Even in the midst of a prolonged run, Concordia had to shake off a plague of turnovers. The Bulldogs committed 14 turnovers in the first half and then 10 more in the second half as part of a fast-paced affair.
Though Concordia may have taken risks by at times playing in too much of a rush, its flair also produced several highlight-reel plays. Morris dropped five dimes, including a look-away dish to Kelsey Hizer that made it 58-42 Bulldogs with 10:45 left.
After falling behind 12-5 in the opening four-plus minutes, Concordia’s defense dug in, and on the other end, Morris nailed a pair of triples and Devin Edwards added one during the spurt that spanned just over four minutes.
Pearson, a native of Gibbon, Neb., did her best work in the second half when she totaled 11 points and eight rebounds. She put up seven points over the final 4:06 to help Concordia maintain a double-digit lead. Off the bench Daum, a freshman from McCook, Neb., again provided scoring punch. She went 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
“Brenleigh is a pure scorer,” Olson said. “She knows that she’s coming into fire away and she’s doing that really well.”
The 5-foot-4 Morris sparked one of the loudest crowd eruptions when she rejected 6-foot Caitlin McMahon early in the second half. That block doubled Morris’ career total.
The Cougars had five players post 10 points or more, led by Stuut’s 16. McMahon registered a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Concordia has defeated three ranked opponents already: No. 6 Saint Xavier, No. 9 Jamestown and No. 17 Mayville State.
“It’s preparing us for the national tournament and preparing us for the conference season,” Pearson said. “We want to take one game at a time. We’re going to continue to play hard and we’re not going to let down.”
The Bulldogs conclude the Cattle Classic on Saturday when they host Valley City State University (N.D.) at 1 p.m. The Vikings defeated Doane, 66-49, in the opening game of the classic on Friday.