PHOENIX, Ariz. – A battle between NAIA powers and predominantly zone defensive teams made for an anticipated holiday season clash in the desert on Friday evening (Dec. 28). The third-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team mounted a 31-12 halftime lead, then went cold in the second half and still found a way to fend off No. 2 Southeastern University (Fla.), 59-51, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Thirteenth-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad made an impressive statement during a two-day run at the Arizona Christian Holiday Classic. The Bulldogs pulverized host and 21st-ranked Arizona Christian University, 105-63, on Thursday before winning Friday’s grinder. In a span of less than two weeks, Concordia has beaten the teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NAIA Division II poll.
“Both teams walk out thinking they didn’t play their best game,” Olson said. “But I feel like we worked harder. We outworked them on the boards and just made the plays. Every possession became a grind. It’s a credit to our kids and how hard they played. The work ethic of our kids over the break really came through these past two days.”
In recent seasons, Concordia and Southeastern have jockeyed for positioning near the top of the national poll, but they had yet to go head-to-head. When the Bulldogs blitzed the Fire with a 20-5 run to open the game, it appeared Philly Lammers and company might run away with it. Concordia led by as many as 19 points before watching the advantage melt to five on two separate occasions in the second half.
These battle-tested Bulldogs always had an answer. Southeastern seemingly had momentum when a 15-1 run pulled it within five (32-27) midway through the third quarter – but freshman Mackenzie Koepke responded with a trey to calm the waters. The Fire had one more push left in it, pulling within 45-40 with under 7:00 left – but All-Americans Quinn Wragge and Lammers responded with back-to-back buckets. Wragge, on a beautifully executed dime from MacKenzie Helman, then added a three-point play to snuff out the comeback bid.
Southeastern (11-2) was left to wonder what could have been, as in what if it hadn’t started the game so miserably. The Fire went just 4-for-26 (.154) from the floor over the opening 20 minutes. The trio of Elsa Paulsson-Glantz, Makenzie Cann and Jaycee Coe came in averaging a combined 48.4 points per game. They totaled a collective 17 points on Friday while at times flummoxed in the face of Concordia’s zone press.
Southeastern can play defense too. It’s 2-3 zone helped hold the Bulldogs without a field goal for more than 10 minutes of play that stretched from the second quarter and into the third. Concordia overcame its 28.4 percent shooting with the toughness inside from Lammers (17 points, 10 rebounds), by taking care of the ball (10 turnovers) and by owning a significant rebounding edge (55-40) over one of the nation’s most physically imposing squads.
Grace Barry and Taylor Cockerill joined Lammers in double figures with 11 points apiece. Koepke nailed a trio of triples off the bench, which was tightened on Friday. The offensive numbers were not pretty, but these are the types of games championship teams somehow have to gut out.
GPAC play will resume in the new year with a trip to 13th-ranked Dordt (12-4) coming up on Wednesday (Jan. 2). Tipoff from De Witt Gymnasium is slated for 6 p.m. CST. The Bulldogs have won each of the last 12 meetings with the Defenders, who will ride a four-game GPAC win streak into next week’s clash.
But first, Concordia will enjoy a couple more days in Phoenix before flying back to Nebraska. Activities will include visits to the Grand Canyon and an NBA game.