SEWARD, Neb. – A pair of short in-state road trips will make up this week’s slate for a Concordia University Women’s Basketball team hoping to put together a strong finish to the regular season. The Bulldogs are coming off an encouraging week that saw them blow out Midland, 101-57, on the road before a close home defeat, 76-69, at the hands of red hot Dordt. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad stands at 13-11 overall and at 10-8 in conference play as it prepares to head to Doane on Wednesday and College of Saint Mary on Saturday.
By the numbers
· Realistically, it appears Concordia could still finish as high as fourth place in the GPAC standings. It currently resides in a tie with Jamestown for sixth place. The Bulldogs are looking up at Morningside (16-2), Dordt (13-5), Northwestern (13-5), Dakota Wesleyan (12-6) and Briar Cliff (11-7). Concordia will play two teams this week situated behind it in the standings and has games left against Briar Cliff and Dakota Wesleyan. At the top of the league, the Mustangs are one win away from clinching at least a share of the regular season title. Last season Morningside broke the Bulldogs’ stranglehold on the GPAC. Concordia swept regular season and postseason titles each season from 2016-17 through 2019-20.
· New analytical metrics were released by the NAIA at the beginning of last week. Despite a run of tough results, the Bulldogs continue to sport a strong overall profile. As of Jan. 30, Concordia had played the No. 1 schedule of any team in the NAIA. It also landed at No. 31 in the official NAIA ratings percentage index (RPI). Based on the RPI, the Bulldogs have played 11 games against the RPI top 50 and own wins over No. 18 Northwestern and No. 19 Wayland Baptist University (Texas). Concordia also boasts a victory over No. 53 Dakota State University (S.D.). In Massey Ratings (not an official NAIA calculation), the Bulldogs are ranked 22nd in the NAIA.
· The win at Midland on Feb. 2 was much needed after Concordia had dropped four games in a row. Behind Taysha Rushton, the Bulldogs sped out to a quick start in Fremont and owned a 20-point lead (51-31) at halftime. Rushton finished with 31 points (one off a career high) and had 10 points in the game’s first five minutes, 17 points by the end of the first quarter and 26 points by halftime. The school record for most points in one half was 28 by Bailey Morris on Feb. 15, 2014, when she set the still-intact program single-game scoring record of 45 points. Also in last week’s win over the Warriors, Rylee Pauli (11 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals) notched a double-double, Sadie Powell contributed 13 points and Bailey Conrad dished out seven assists.
· Dordt moved its win streak to 13 after it escaped Friedrich Arena with a 76-69 win over the weekend. Concordia owned a six-point lead (61-55) early in the fourth quarter but couldn’t close the deal. After being held scoreless in the first half, Defender star Ashtyn Veerbeek got going late and made a series of big plays down the stretch. Dordt overcame 20 points from Rushton and a 19-point, seven-rebound outing from Powell. The Defenders got a game high 26 points from Bailey Beckman and Karly Gustafson posted 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs shot a rock-solid 48.3 percent from the floor but got outrebounded, 40-25.
· Rushton wound up with 51 points last week while shooting 21-for-35 (.600) from the floor, including 7-for-14 from 3-point range. At 17.8 points per game, Rushton ranks third in the GPAC in scoring average behind Doane’s Mak Hatcliff (23.2) and Dordt’s Veerbeek (18.5). Rushton has scored 20 or more points in four-straight games and has reached the 20-point mark 15 times in her career. Last week’s surge bumped up Rushton’s season shooting percentages. She’s now at 38.9 percent from the field, 31.7 percent from 3-point range and 74.8 percent from the foul line. If Rushton’s season scoring average holds up, it would mark the highest for a Bulldog since Bailey Morris averaged 18.5 points during her National Player of the Year season in 2014-15.
· Now in her second season as a starter (fourth season in the program), Pauli is closing in on 500 career rebounds. The Omaha native got minutes on the 2018-19 national championship team and has seen her role steadily increase since then. In 117 career collegiate games, Pauli has totaled 565 points, 489 rebounds and 159 steals. This season, Pauli is averaging 7.0 points and 6.9 rebounds and is the lone Bulldog to have started all 24 games. She ranks eighth in the GPAC in rebounding. The program overall record during Pauli’s career stands at 102-25.
Though winds have been hard to come by of late, Doane is a much better team than it was last season. With averages of 23.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, Mak Hatcliff would appear to be the obvious choice for GPAC Freshman of the Year. Considering the Tigers took Concordia to overtime on New Year’s Day (76-70 Bulldog win), they should have the full attention of the Bulldogs on Wednesday. In last week’s action, Head Coach Ryan Baumgartner’s squad fell at Hastings, 69-66, and at home to No. 13 Northwestern, 94-60. While Doane has been eliminated from GPAC tournament contention, a win over Concordia would help build momentum looking ahead to next season.
College of Saint Mary has also been taking its lumps within conference play as of late. Back on Jan. 12, the Flames were defeated handily, 87-58, in Seward. With 11 wins overall this season, Head Coach Kirk Walker’s program has far surpassed the three wins it posted in 2020-21. CSM prefers a lower possession game than Concordia. The Flames have been solid defensively in limiting foes to 64.5 points per game and 34.3 percent shooting. The team’s top scorer has been Alyssa Marsh-Contreras, who averages 12.2 points per game.
In the final week of the regular season, the Bulldogs will host Briar Cliff on Feb. 16 and then play at the Corn Palace where they will meet Dakota Wesleyan on Feb. 19.