SEWARD, Neb. – For the most part, the opening night of the GPAC tournament went as scripted for the top-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team. It could have done without the rash of early layups that burned its press, but the Bulldogs were too good to be a quarterfinal victim. Concordia tightened the screws defensively and bounced Briar Cliff from the postseason, 80-55, inside Walz Arena on Wednesday night (Feb. 20).
In a streak that dates back to 2008, 13th-year head coach Drew Olson’s program has won 17-straight GPAC tournament home games. The league’s top seed has moved to 28-3 overall.
“That first quarter was entertaining but part of that was our transition defense was really poor,” Olson said. “Once we figured that part out the second quarter came a little bit easier for us. I thought we shot really well in the first quarter and kind of went ice cold the rest of the game. That was the difference in why they lingered around a little bit.”
Like some of the other GPAC squads outside of the league’s top six, the 2018-19 Briar Cliff squad will probably never get the appreciation it deserves because of a conference record south of .500, albeit in the NAIA’s top women’s basketball league. The Chargers (15-16) came out of the gates with an effective plan of attack for taking on the press. Their ability to get the ball over the top of the press helped them hang tight for most of the first quarter.
But Concordia had its way in the second and third quarters while building the type of commanding lead that would have been forecasted on paper. Almost shockingly, All-American Philly Lammers had a career low two points the last time the Bulldogs went up against Briar Cliff’s zone. It wasn’t that way this time. The junior from Omaha muscled her way to 18 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday. Lammers and fellow frontcourt star Quinn Wragge (19 points) combined to go 14-for-21 from the floor.
It obviously serves them well to have a point guard like Grace Barry setting them up. Barry posted a line of 11 points, eight assists and five steals. She’s been a major reason why Concordia celebrated a GPAC regular season title for the third year in a row.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Barry said of her first season so far as a Bulldog. “I’m around a great group of girls. They’re all really focused on basketball and being great people. The biggest thing is we are able to come together and compete and have fun.”
Briar Cliff entered the night averaging 67.3 points per game and just did not have the firepower to make a serious bid at an upset. Madelyn Deitchler (14) and Taylor Wagner (12) reached double figures for the Chargers. They were guilty of 33 turnovers (26 via steals) and made only two 3-point field goals (2-for-9).
Concordia is closing in on 1,000 turnovers forced (currently at 972) for the season. This year’s squad has turned over the opposition at a rate higher than any other in program history.
“Riley Sibbel and I always call it, ‘Calling on the Dawgs,’” Barry said. “We try to get as many steals as we can and just be great defensively. I think that’s our bread and butter right now – being the best we can be defensively. That makes up for any offensive mistakes we have.”
Added Olson, “Our kids really thrive on it. They feed off each other’s great hustle and physical play.”
Next up is a semifinal matchup on Saturday with 15th-ranked Hastings (19-11), the GPAC tournament No. 5 seed. Tipoff from Walz Arena is set for 3 p.m. CST. Spurred by Shandra Farmer, the Broncos have won nine of their last 10 outings, including Wednesday’s 66-63 quarterfinal win at No. 13 Dordt.