Rushton scores career high 32, Bulldogs hold off Bellevue in opener

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 1, 2021 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – While making its 2021-22 debut, the ninth-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team started hot before settling into a wire-to-wire battle with Bellevue University. Star guard Taysha Rushton poured in a career high 32 points and the Bulldogs overcame some impressive shot-making by the Bruins in what amounted to a 77-71 win on Monday (Nov. 1). A plus-13 turnover margin for Concordia played a significant role in the outcome.

Some may recall that Head Coach Drew Olson’s program began last season at 0-3 before things eventually came together for a run to the national quarterfinals. Though it has a fairly youthful roster, Monday’s starting backcourt of Rushton, Bailey Conrad and Mackenzie Toomey is equipped with the experience of last season’s surge.

Said Olson, who is beginning his 16th season leading the program, “That was a lot of fun. It’s just good to play a really good team like Bellevue and come out with a win. I’m really excited about it … I thought we played well defensively. The press kind of got to them a little bit, but we have to be a little bit sharper in it. Second half I thought we really did a nice job in the halfcourt. We’re getting better. It’s the first game.”

Many visitors to Friedrich Arena have wilted after getting down early as Bellevue did on Monday. Rushton and company led 10-1 less than three minutes into action, but the Bruins regrouped and trailed by just a point at halftime. Even when the Bulldogs pushed their lead to 10 (74-64) with under 3:30 remaining in the game, Bellevue never quit. A three-point play by Asha Scott and a trey from Laura Jurek made it 74-70 with 2:38 left. Neither team registered a field goal the rest of the way and Concordia got the W.

It’s certainly true that this edition of the Bulldogs will have a different identity with All-American Taylor Cockerill having graduated. There will be nothing to hold back Rushton, who went 10-for-26 from the floor (3-for-11 from 3-point range) and 9-for-11 from the foul line in the season opener. The Midland, Texas, native can get it done on both ends of the floor.

“It was us coming together in this first game and learning each other,” Rushton said. “This whole preseason we’ve worked on knowing each other’s strengths and ways to attack the opponent’s weaknesses. I feel like this first game we finally clicked together and figured that out.”

Conrad is back to form after suffering an injury at the national tournament last season. She posted a line of six points, eight assists and five rebounds without a single turnover. While playing in her first ever collegiate game, 5-foot-11 Abby Heemstra (Rock Valley, Iowa) notched 11 points, four rebounds and two steals. Off the bench, Kayla Luebbe contributed nine points on 4-for-6 shooting while Sadie Powell (seven points, four rebounds) and Taylor Farrell (five points, four rebounds) also chipped in as reserves. The most experienced player in the starting five is Rylee Pauli, who recorded four points, six rebounds and two steals.

Bellevue (1-1) hung tough by shooting 48.0 percent (24-for-50) from the floor. The Bruins knocked down 10 treys, including a half-courter by Taeha Pankey to beat the halftime buzzer. Elexis Martinez paced Bellevue with 16 points and 12 rebounds while Faith Ross added 15 points. The Bruins had a slight advantage in rebounding, 37-33, but could not overcome their 19 turnovers.

Said Olson of Rushton, “She’s pretty good at basketball. Thank goodness for her because she kept us going when we struggled to score in that second quarter. She’s really special on both ends.”

The Bulldogs will remain at home to host the 22nd annual Cattle Classic this Friday and Saturday. The opponents will be No. 18 Sterling College (Kan.) and No. 13 Dakota State University (S.D.). For the complete Cattle Classic schedule, click HERE.