LUBBOCK, Texas — Fifteenth-seeded Walters State has been a defensive juggernaut all season long, and that defense carried the Lady Senators to an opening round win in the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championships Monday afternoon.
Walters State went into the opener against 18th-seeded and undefeated Miles College out of Montana allowing right at 50 points per game, which was second in the country, while the Pioneers scored 81.4 points per game, good enough for 14th in the nation.
It was the defense that won out, as the Lady Senators held Miles to a season low in points and field goal percentage in claiming a 65-47 victory to advance to the second round of the national tournament being held in the Rip Griffin Center at Lubbock Christian University.
With the win, Walters State has now won 18 straight games to improve to 29-4 on the year. The Lady Senators will move on to face a familiar opponent in the second round, as they will take on No. 2 seed Gulf Coast State, a regular opponent for Coach Dave Kragel's teams in the past few years, Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. Central. The Commodores come into that game at 23-5 on the year.
The loss ended a highly successful season for Miles with a 33-1 record. The Pioneers had only played three games all season decided by single digits, and they fell behind early and couldn't recover. Miles had scored more than 70 points in 27 games this season and more than 60 points in 32 contests. Their previous season low for points was on Jan. 21 in a 58-45 win over Williston State.
"We made some shots early and they didn't," Kragel said. "We knew how good of a 3-point shooting team they are. We were just trying to make sure we got to all their shooters as quickly as we could and tried to do it out of our matchup zone. We were fortunate to do that, and then we got some turnovers as a result of that."
Walters State wasted little time pouncing on the Pioneers, as Brianna Dixon, Jamya Rogers and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu all scored on layups in the first 2:03 of the game for a 6-0 lead. Derrinesha Jackson and Mendjiadeu both added layups and Zacharyia Esmon stroked a triple in an opening 13-2 lead, as WSCC pulled out to a 20-6 lead after one after Alexis Trice buried a pair of late triples in the period.
"We just never really gave ourselves a chance," Miles coach Nate Vogel said. "That first quarter really put us behind the 8-ball quick, and we just never could get out of that hole. I think it took us that first quarter to get those nerves out and by that time it was just too late."
Jackson scored the first bucket of the second period before Hannah Jones converted a 3-point play, Mendjiadeu added a layup and Dixon hit two free throws in a 9-4 run to make it a 29-10 lead before the Pioneers hit a pair of 3-pointersin the final four minutes of the half to make it a 36-18 halftime lead.
The Lady Senators 46 percent (12 of 26) from the field in the half, making 4 of 10 from long range and 8 of 11 at the stripe. WSCC also held a 19-8 edge on the glass and forced 10 turnovers. Trice and Esmon both had seven points in the half, while Mendjiadeu had six points in the first two frames.
The Pioneers shot just 31 percent (8 of 26) in the opening half, making 2 of 9 from long distance and missing both free throws in the first 20 minutes. Patrycja Jaworska led Miles with seven points in the half, while Bre Moea'i had six.
The third quarter was all about defense, and the Pioneers held WSCC to four made field goals in the frame while slicing into the deficit. Kylee Meredith nailed a title before Caitlyn Barkins hit two late free throws to make it a 44-30 game heading into the fourth.
Miles cut the lead to 13 on a trey from Josselin Geer with 9:23 left in the game, but Rogers took over from there. Rogers sandwiched a triple from Claire Borot with two trifectas of her own, and another 3-pointer with 4:21 left sparked a 9-0 run by WSCC. Jalayah Manning hit an off-balance, running 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 3:38 left before Rogers scored on a jumper and hit a free throw to make it a 24-point lead with 2:45 to go and the Lady Senators coasted from there.
"Our team has been total defense all year long," Kragel said. "We've got some kids who can score but defense has been our key. We have to do well on the boards and control the boards as much as we can. I cannot complain about our effort at all."
Walters State ended the afternoon shooting 46.9 percent (23 of 49) from the field, including 8 of 18 from 3-point distance, while making 11 of 19 from the foul line. The Lady Senators continued their dominance on the boards in the second half by holding a 39-20 margin in rebounds for the game, including 12 offensive caroms.
Rogers was the only WSCC player in double figures with 16 points, including a dozen in the fourth period, and she grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in the win. Esmon added nine points, while Mendjiadeu had eight and Trice and Jalayah Manning had seven each in the contest.
Miles ended up shooting 31.6 percent (18 of 57) from the floor, making just 7 of 27 from long distance and 4 of 8 at the line. The Pioneers also had 17 turnovers while forcing 22 from WSCC. Jaworska led Miles with 10 points in the defeat, while Moea'i had eight and Carmela Garcia finished with seven.