SEWARD, Neb. – A 35-second stretch that included two Mackenzie Koepke bank shot 3-point field goals pretty much summed up Saturday (Feb. 23)’s GPAC semifinal clash. Everything came up golden in a dominant first half for the top-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team. The Bulldogs’ 56.4 percent shooting over the game’s first 20 minutes propelled them to an 89-66 win over No. 15 Hastings inside Walz Arena.
The victory means that 13th-year head coach Drew Olson’s program will now host the GPAC postseason championship game for the third year in a row. The Bulldogs (29-3) are also one triumph away from reaching the 30-win mark for a third-straight season.
“I thought offensively we were really good,” Olson said. “We were sharp in what we were trying to do against them and then everybody hit shots. I also felt that our defensive effort in that first half allowed us to build the lead.”
The first half was a thing of beauty from an offensive execution standpoint. As usual, junior point guard Grace Barry operated as the maestro while racking up nine assists on the afternoon. Philly Lammers proved too much inside for the Broncos, who were also victimized by Concordia’s entire arsenal of weaponry. It’s just not going to be a good day for the visitors when the Bulldogs click like this offensively.
Concordia ultimately put this game away in the third quarter. It was forced to respond when Hastings sprinted out of the break with an 11-2 run. An advantage that had stood at 24 in the first half had been slashed in half. The Bulldogs then crushed Hastings’ soul with an 18-2 splurge that spilled into the fourth quarter. Taylor Cockerill capped the run with a triple.
The Broncos (19-12) entered the day having won nine of their previous 10 outings while following the lead of star point guard Shandra Farmer. On this particular day, Concordia’s dogged press just about took Farmer out of the equation. She shot only three times, totaling four points in 18 minutes of playing time. Taylor Beacom, who put home the first five points of the game, led Hastings with 11 tallies.
“Farmer is really good. That was one of the keys to the game today – that we had to control her,” said junior Riley Sibbel, who pilfered four steals in the contest. “We were able to double up on her and push up in the press. That’s how we got some steals. It was all a team effort.”
That team effort was reflected obviously in the statistics. The Bulldogs held big advantages in field goal percentage (.486 to .370) and turnovers (17-27). Four starters reached double figures in scoring: Cockerill (17), Lammers (14), Barry (13) and Sibbel (10). In addition, off the bench, Colby Duvel chipped in nine points and Elsie Aslesen and Koepke added eight points apiece. Barry swiped six of the team’s 18 steals.
You can essentially take the win to the bank when Concordia shoots the ball this well. The 48.6 field goal percentage was its highest since a 58.1 percent clip in a blowout of Doane on Jan. 23. The trick is to hold the Bulldogs below 40 percent. When that happens, Concordia is a bit more beatable (9-3).
“We want to peak at the right time and I feel like we took a really good step today,” Olson said. “We have to continue to get better and hopefully reach our potential.”
Somehow it always seems to come down to Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan (28-4). The two rivals will square off in the GPAC tournament title game for the third-consecutive year. The game will be played inside Walz Arena at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday. The previous two GPAC title tilts between these two sides both came down to the wire, with the Bulldogs winning 78-77 in overtime in 2017 and 90-88 in 2018.
The fourth-ranked Tigers went on the road and defeated second-ranked Northwestern, 75-66, in the other semifinal matchup on Saturday. It sets the stage for another big-time clash on Tuesday.
Says Sibbel, “Dakota Wesleyan is a really good team. It’s going to be a battle. Those games are just really fun.”