NEWBERG, Ore. – Nicole Blizzard came off the bench to score a team-leading 15 points, sparking the George Fox University Bruins to a tougher-than-expected 64-51 decision over the Linfield College Wildcats that kept them tied for first in the Northwest Conference women's basketball race Saturday night here at the Wheeler Sports Center's Miller Gym.
George Fox, ranked 18th in the NCAA Division III D3hoops.com poll and 21st in the WBCA poll, moved to 17-4 overall with its 10th straight win over Linfield and 10-2 in the conference. The Bruins remained tied atop the NWC with sixth-ranked Lewis & Clark College, which broke a three-way tie for first by defeating Whitman College 61-52 on the road. Linfield fell to 2-15 overall and 1-10 in the NWC.
In a tribute to their three graduating seniors, who were honored in pre-game ceremonies, the Bruins inserted Hannah Munger, Kelsey Khaw, and Katie Morse into the starting lineup. Munger has missed the last several games with recurring knee problems and Khaw had missed the entire season following fall knee surgery; those two came out immediately after the opening tip which was won by the Bruins.
The Wildcats proceeded to take a 4-0 lead on a pair of baskets by Kaely Maltman before the Bruins, who missed their first six shots, finally got on the board with a Hayley Cusick steal and layup just over four minutes into the game. Megan Arnoldy tied the game 4-4 with a jumper, and there was one more tie at 8-8 with 11:50 left in the period after a three-pointer by the Wildcats' Taylor Solomon.
Justine Benner broke the tie with a putback, igniting a 10-0 run that featured a pair of threes by Blizzard and gave the Bruins an 18-8 lead with 7:30 to go. After Solomon hit a jumper to end the run, Blizzard hit another three and a jumper to give the Bruins their largest lead of the half 23-10 with 6:07 remaining. She added a pair of free throws at the 2:09 mark for 13 first-half tallies as the Bruins took a 28-16 halftime lead.
Arnoldy gave the Bruins a 14-point lead with a layup to open the second half, but the Wildcats would not go away, taking off on an 11-2 run that trimmed the George Fox lead to 32-27 with 15:43 left in the game. Cusick hit a trey to halt the Linfield outburst, and the Bruins took a double-digit lead they would not relinquish on a triple by Kyla Miner that made it 43-31 with 12:53 left.
The George Fox lead reached 22 twice, the first at 61-39 on two free throws by Megan Hays and again at 63-41 on a layup by Morse with 4:49 to go. Maltman hit two shots and a free throw to key a 9-0 Linfield run that cut the margin to 13 at 63-50 with 1:24 to play, but that was as close as they would come.
Neither team could find its stride offensively, George Fox shooting .344 (21-61) from the field (.167, 5-30 on threes) to .345 (19-55) from the floor (.222, 2-9 on threes) for Linfield. The Wildcats also struggled from the line, hitting only 11-23 (.478). The Bruins held a 45-42 advantage in rebounds.
Blizzard hit 5-8 from the field (3-4 on threes) en route to her career high in points for the Bruins, and Hays added 11 points with 7-8 from the line. Cusick had a team-high eight rebounds and passed out five assists.
Maltman turned in a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, and Taylor tallied 10 points. Maltman also passed out four assists.
NEXT: George Fox plays its final four games on the road, starting with the eastern Washington swing. The Bruins visit Whitman on Friday and Whitworth University on Saturday; those two are now tied for third in the league standings. Tipoff both nights is 6:00 p.m., followed by NWC men's games at 8:00 p.m. ... Linfield is home Friday against Pacific University at 6:00 p.m., with a men's game to follow at 8:00 p.m.