NEWBERG, Ore. – Surviving a brilliant first half of three-point shooting by the University of Puget Sound and their own struggles at the free throw line, the George Fox University Bruins edged the Loggers 62-56 Thursday night here at the Wheeler Sports Center's Miller Gym to reach the finals of the Northwest Conference Women's Basketball Tournament.
By eliminating the No. 3-seeded Loggers, whose season concluded with four straight losses and a final 18-8 record, George Fox (21-5), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, advanced to the title game against No. 1 seed Lewis & Clark College (21-5). The Pioneers moved into the championship with a 60-51 win at home over the No. 4-seeded Whitman College Missionaries, whose season ended at 15-11.
The title game is set for Saturday in Portland, Ore., at 7:00 p.m. The winner earns a spot in the national tournament, while the other must await a possible at-large bid. The 64-team field for the NCAA playoffs will be announced Sunday at 12:00 noon Pacific time.
George Fox took early three-point leads of 3-0 on a three-ball by Arianna Mohsenian and 5-2 on a Megan Arnoldy layup before Puget Sound began to sizzle from the outside. Consecutive threes by Taylor Jones, Kelsey McKinnis, and McKinnis again gave the Loggers an 11-5 lead six minutes into the game, and they stayed ahead the rest of the half, though never by more than six points.
The first period ended with the Loggers holding a 29-26 advantage after connecting on six of eight from downtown, a blistering 75 percent. Jones was 3-for-3 and McKinnis 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, but the Loggers were only 4-19 (.210) when inside the circle. The Bruins, meanwhile, shot .417 (10-24) from the field, which was better than their paltry .364 mark (4-11) from the line.
The Bruins' free throw woes continued in the second half as they hit only 7-17 (.412), but the Loggers finally came back down to earth from long range as they made only two of their 13 three-point tries (.154) in the final 20 minutes, enabling the Bruins to finally gain the upper hand.
Hannah Munger's layup and subsequent free throw to open the second half lifted the Bruins to a 29-29 tie, and there were seven lead changes and four more ties over the next 10 minutes. With the score knotted at 43-43, Mohsenian hit a jumper in the lane to give the Bruins the lead for good with 8:26 left. Keisha Gordon followed with a three-pointer and a layup and Arnoldy drove for a score as the Bruins took the largest lead of the game at 52-44 with 6:28 remaining.
The Loggers would not go away, however, and closed with two on an offensive rebound and putback by Sha'Ran Lowe that cut the George Fox lead to 54-52 with 2:18 left. Hayley Cusick answered with a critical three for the Bruins at the 1:56 mark, and after Lowe hit two clutch free throws for UPS, Mohsenian nailed a trey from the left wing for a 60-54 Bruin advantage with 1:16 left. One free throw each by Mohsenian and Cusick offset a final Puget Sound bucket by Jocelyn Riordan with 18 seconds to go.
Gordon led the Bruins with 15 points, Mohsenian had 13, and Munger posted her 11th double-double of the season and 22nd of her career with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Gordon also had five assists and three steals. George Fox shot .522 (12-23) from the floor in the second half to finish at .468 (22-47) for the game, and had a final free throw percentage of .393 (11-28).
McKinnis led all scorers with 19 for the Loggers, while Riordan and Lowe added 11 each. Lindsay Layland and Lowe had eight boards apiece, and McKinnis passed out seven assists. Puget Sound shot .368 (21-57) from the field, .381 (8-21) from long distance, and .750 (6-8) from the line.