Women’s basketball opens season with two home wins

Danny Schwartz | Sports Reporter

A strong weekend for the No. 9 Washington University women’s basketball team kicked off what it hopes will be a season of achievement. The Bears trounced Buena Vista University 95-73 Friday night and followed with a close 63-60 win over Ohio Northern University to win the 12th annual McWilliams Classic in the WU Field House.

The Bears got off to a fast start in Friday’s game against the Beavers as sophomore guard Maddy Scheppers scored 12 of her career-high 20 points in the first six minutes of the game.

Scheppers’ scoring “was huge,” sophomore Melissa Gilkey, who finished with 15 points herself, said. “To come out aggressive is always a big thing, and she definitely did that for us. Everyone else felt more comfortable being aggressive because of that.”

In the first half, Wash. U. scored 13 straight points to push their lead to 35-15 and went into halftime leading 56-33. The team shot 56.4 percent from the field in the first half.

“Shots were falling, and everything seemed to be working pretty well,” Scheppers said.

The Beavers never came within 20 points of the Bears in the second half as Wash. U.’s aggressive defense and strong rebounding stifled any comeback attempt.

“Everyone had a little bit of nerves because it was the first game of the season, but the freshmen played well and composed,” Gilkey said. “[Freshman guard] Jordan Thompson had an outstanding performance. If there was no roster, you probably couldn’t even tell they were freshmen.”

Thompson was the team’s third-leading scorer with 13 points. The Bears outrebounded Buena Vista by a 42-34 margin, and they scored 26 points off of turnovers.

Saturday night’s game, the McWilliams Classic championship game, featured a little more drama than the night before as the Bears were going up against a relatively stronger Ohio Northern University team.

“We knew the competition was going to be a lot more intense,” Gilkey said. “They were definitely coming for us, but we never got too nervous or tense about it; we kept our head, and when they went on runs, we responded appropriately.”

The game was tight throughout, and the Red and the Green were down 57-54 with 3:28 left. The team responded with a 7-0 run to take a four-point lead, its largest of the game, with 1:19 remaining. With Wash. U. in a zone defense, a series of Ohio Northern passes found a wide-open Brooke Espenschied for a three pointer to cut the Bears’ lead to one with 49.7 seconds to play.

“Those are the situations we practice for; they’re most fun to practice,” Gilkey said. “It was obviously a little nerve-racking when they hit that three, but we kept our head and stayed aggressive.”

After a timeout called by head coach Nancy Fahey to help the team regroup, sophomore forward Alyssa Johanson missed a shot, but junior Jordan Rettig recovered the offensive rebound. The Bears passed the ball around to take as much time off the clock as they could before the Polar Bears fouled Johanson intentionally, sending her to the line for two free throws.

“We were trying to pass it around as much as possible and take time off the clock,” Gilkey said, “but the fact that [Johanson] ended up with it was great because we knew she could knock them down.”

Johanson made both free throws, and an ensuing pair of missed three-pointers by the Polar Bears sealed the 63-60 win for the Bears, who shot 58.3 percent from the field in the second half (45.1 percent overall) and held ONU to 42.9 percent shooting. Wash. U. also outrebounded ONU by a 38-29 margin. Four players scored in double figures for the Bears: Rettig (13 points), Gilkey (13 points), Johanson (11 points) and Scheppers (10 points).

The Bears now have a week off for Thanksgiving but then travel over the next weekend to Bloomington, Ill., for the Titan Tip-Off Tournament, which features No. 4 DePauw University, No. 5 Illinois Wesleyan and No. 21 Coe College.

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