Merle Wiehl finished with 31 points and the 23rd-ranked Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team captured the Region IX South top seed and the right to host the Region IX tournament in March with an 83-69 win over Northeastern Junior College Saturday afternoon at Cougar Palace.
WNCC moves to 8-0 in conference play and has a 2-game lead over NJC in sub-region play. The win was the Cougars 11th straight, moving WNCC to 23-3 on the season with three regular season games left.
WNCC earned the win but the team realizes it wasn’t their best, especially in the second half.
“It obviously wasn’t one of our better games,” Wiehl said. “But we were still locked in on defense which gave us a chance to win tonight.”
The Cougars led 43-28 at halftime and seemed in control. The second half wasn’t WNCC’s best, but they held on for the 83-69 win, which locked up hosting the regional tournament.
“It is really good to host the tournament,” Wiehl said. “Not only does it mean we have a home court advantage, but especially as a sophomore, I’m excited to play more games at this place.”
The Cougar’s win was a team effort where different players hit big shots at key times. WNCC had just two in double figures. Wiehl had 31 while R’Manie Pulling tallied 14. WNCC won the rebound total 44-31, led by Andrijana Reljic nine boards. The Cougars also dished out 29 assists, led by Tishara Morehouse with 10.
The difference in the game was shooting. WNCC shot 46 percent compared to 38 percent for NJC. Both teams canned six 3-pointers.
“It was definitely a team win,” Wiehl said. “Against a good team like NJC, we have to share the ball and everyone has to contribute somehow in order for us to win that game.”
WNCC led 17-13 in the first before closing out the quarter on a 9-0 run that included a Pulling 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead 26-18.
WNCC led 34-18 in the second quarter before settling for a 43-28 halftime lead and then 58-46 after three quarters.
The Cougars opened the fourth on a 9-0 run behind a Wiehl 3-pointer and back-to-back buckets by Pulling for a 67-46 lead. NJC fought back on a 10-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to single digits. The Plainswomen couldn’t get any closer after that.
WNCC will close out the home portion of the regular season on Wednesday when they host Iowa Western Community College at 5:30 p.m. It will be sophomore recognition day for the four sophomores Wiehl, Reljic, Allysah Boothe, and Eva Langton.
Wiehl said it will be a special game against a good team, which defeated the Cougars back in November 80-75.
“It’s great to play a good team like Iowa western on Wednesday, as the last regular season home game,” she said. “This will be a good test for us and prepares us for the tournament.”
NJC 13 15 18 23 – 69
WNCC (23-3) 26 17 15 25 – 83
Alyzae Davis 18, Tashika Burrell 10, Kirsten Regennitter 4, Marta Rodriguez 2, Asia Turner 10, Taylor Knudson 4, Unique Gainey 4, Aleksandra Ratnikava 17.
Tishara Morehouse 9, Merle Wiehl 31, Allysah Boothe 8, Andrijana Reljic 2, Anyssia Gibbs 6, R’Manie Pulling 14, Eva Langton 4, Yuliyana Valcheva 4, Taylor Joplin 5.