SEWARD, Neb. – For the sixth time in roughly 14 months, the Concordia University women’s basketball program met up with rival Dakota Wesleyan in another high intensity affair. As usual, a lot was on the line. The Bulldogs eventually pulled away with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter and kept pace atop the GPAC standings with a 79-66 victory over the fifth-ranked Tigers inside Walz Arena on Saturday (Feb. 9).
Thirteenth-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad has earned a season sweep of Dakota Wesleyan, which has also made trips to Seward for the past two GPAC tournament championship games. Concordia is now 25-3 overall and 17-3 in the GPAC (tied for first with Northwestern).
“You just know going into the game it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be really hard fought,” Olson said. “It’s going to come down to being able to defend in the half court and making shots. I thought our kids did a great job in the second half of that.”
When things got tight in the fourth quarter, the stars played like stars for the Bulldogs. The defining stretch started nearly midway through the fourth quarter when Grace Barry put home two in the paint to push Concordia’s lead to 67-63. Barry ignited a 9-0 run that was spurred by tenacious defensive effort. The Tigers were mired by a fourth-quarter scoring drought of nearly seven minutes. It finally ended with a Kynedi Cheeseman trey. By then it was too late.
Barry dazzled in crunch time. She capped the aforementioned 9-0 run with a steal and layup. Then with under two minutes left, Barry pushed the lead to double digits for the first time with a nifty back-breaking driving layup just before the shot clock buzzer. She finished with eight points, four assists and three steals.
“I really think that was all our defense,” Wragge said of the fourth quarter push. “We really locked down and made sure we were getting stops and forcing turnovers.”
Three players – Taylor Cockerill (19), Philly Lammers (18) and Wragge (16 points, 10 rebounds) accounted for a major portion of the offensive production. Cockerill attacked with her usual fearlessness and Wragge consistently got the lane off the dribble. Meanwhile, Lammers made all eight of her free throws as part of a 20-for-24 team effort from the charity stripe.
Though the final spread was 13, this was certainly no picnic. The defending national champion Tigers (24-4, 17-4 GPAC) boast a star trio of Cheeseman, Sarah Carr and Rylie Osthus. Cheeseman led that group with 17 points, but it was Makaela Karst who gave Concordia fits. She made layup after layup on her way to a career high 23 points.
The Bulldogs had more success in their zone defense as opposed to man-to-man. It was that look that stifled Dakota Wesleyan in the fourth quarter. Turnover margin (20-7) was again a key to victory. So too was a deeper bench while up against a Tiger squad playing its fourth game in eight days. Mackenzie Koepke chipped in five points, five rebounds and two blocks in a reserve role.
The Bulldogs will be back at Walz on Wednesday for their final home contest of the 2018-19 regular season. College of Saint Mary (2-25, 1-19 GPAC) will serve as the opponent for a game set to tip off at 7 p.m. CST. In this season’s first meeting, Concordia pummeled the Flames, 88-55, in Omaha on Nov. 20.
Now it’s time for the Bulldogs finish the regular season strong. They just concluded a 3-1 stretch against four teams all ranked in the top 15 nationally.
“Our kids embrace the challenge. That’s one of the reasons why they come here,” Olson said. “They want to be a part of a championship run. Our kids delivered today, but our job’s not done. We have to focus and finish like our motto is and be ready to go next week.”