Terrific backcourt trio paddles Dawgs to GPAC final

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 27, 2021 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The 17th-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team provided a glimpse at just how good it can be when it’s playing at peak levels. The terrific backcourt trio of Taylor Cockerill, Bailey Conrad and Taysha Rushton exercised control of Saturday (Feb. 27)’s GPAC tournament semifinal while leading the Bulldogs to an 83-70 win over visiting Northwestern. A breathtaking second quarter left a hot Red Raiders opponent in the dust.

The names and faces change, but Head Coach Drew Olson always seems to have his program kicking into gear this time of year. Concordia (20-7) is headed to the GPAC tournament final for a fifth year in a row.

“It feels really good – just really proud of our team,” Olson said. “It was an incredible effort, especially in that first half. We came out with a good aggressiveness and took the scouting report and used it to our advantage. We knew they were going to hedge hard on the ball screens. TC and Bailey made some incredible passes. I felt like we were really locked in all first half.”

The aforementioned group of backcourt standouts features the veteran Cockerill and two rising freshmen in Conrad and Rushton. They seemed to make all the right decisions on when to drive and when to drop the ball over Northwestern for easy buckets for the likes of post players Kayla Luebbe and Rylee Pauli. The dynamic Texan Rushton went wild for 11 of her game high 21 points during a second quarter that saw the Bulldogs outscore the Red Raiders, 24-8.

Concordia shot 47.8 percent (44.8 percent for the game) in the first half and led, 47-25, at the break. Cockerill, Conrad and Rushton combined for 49 points (16-for-34 from the field), 14 rebounds and 11 assists to just three turnovers. All three Bulldogs logged at least 28 minutes of action. Rushton added four rebounds to her line while Cockerill posted 18 points, six assists and six rebounds and Conrad notched 10 points, four assists and four rebounds.

“Obviously it was fun,” Rushton said of the second quarter surge. “We were focused in, like really zoned in and not letting them get any transition buckets. We were having fun on offense and just moving the ball … Their defense couldn’t stop our posts and guards.”

A normally efficient 3-point shooting team, Northwestern (17-10) went just 4-for-24 (.167) from beyond the arc. That meant the Red Raiders had to rely more upon frontcourt players like Molly Schany (14 points) and Alexis Toering (10 points). Northwestern limited its turnovers to 13, but it caused only eight Bulldog turnovers. The Red Raiders did manage to hold an advantage in rebounding, 43-37.

Rushton also put up 19 points in the GPAC quarterfinal win over Dakota Wesleyan. Her impressive play as a freshman is a big reason why Concordia finds itself in another GPAC championship game. Said Olson, “She was awesome. I think she’s one of the best players in the conference and hopefully that comes through when they give the awards out. She’s just been phenomenal for us all year. She’s been big-time in all the big games. I also thought all our freshmen played well.”

Pauli reached double figures with 11 points before fouling out late in the contest. Three players off the bench contributed either seven or eight points: Taylor Farrell (eight), Luebbe (eight) and Sadie Powell (seven). While Rushton knocked down five treys, Farrell drilled two. Their collective play helped the Bulldogs build a lead as large as 24 points.

Concordia has won each of its last 17 GPAC tournament home games and has won 14-straight GPAC postseason contests overall. Under Olson, the Bulldogs are 6-0 in conference tournament championship games.

Two of those streaks will be on the line on Tuesday (March 2) when Concordia will head to Sioux City, Iowa, to take on seventh-ranked Morningside (25-2) in the championship game. Tipoff from the Rosen-Verdoorn Sports Center is set for 7 p.m. CT. The Mustangs got the better of the Bulldogs in both regular-season meetings. These two programs last met in a GPAC tournament title game in 2015 when the result was an 80-72 Concordia win in Sioux City.