WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Emily Spencer's clutch fourth quarter helped No. 13 George Fox avenge its only conference loss of the season and seize sole possession of first place in the Northwest Conference women's basketball standings with a 61-57 victory over 22nd-ranked Whitman at the Sherwood Athletic Center here Friday.
Spencer scored 10 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining that iced the win.
Makana Stone had 16 points, six rebounds and two steals for the Blues, but fouled out in the fourth quarter. Mady Burdettadded 13 points, three assists and two steals, and Maegen Martin had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Whitman (17-5, 11-2 in NWC) was seeking a sweep of the season series against Fox, which would have put the Blues in the driver's seat for the league title. Instead, the Bruins (19-3, 12-1) made just a few more plays in a grinding fourth quarter and now control the race for the conference title and No. 1 seed to the postseason tournament after their seventh consecutive victory.
George Fox has not lost a road game this season.
Whitman took a short-lived lead to open the final quarter on a basket by Martin, but Spencer's 3-pointer reclaimed the lead for Fox at the 6:45 mark.
The middle of the quarter became a test of defensive wills. After Whitman's Kaylie McCracken made a free throw with 6:17 to play, neither team scored until inside the final four minutes. Each team had four turnovers in that span, which ended when Fox's Hailey Hartney splashed a 3-pointer to make it 51-47, Bruins, with 3:31 to play.
Stone scored her final basket of the night to pull the Blues within two points, but fouled out on Fox's ensuing possession, which led to a Bruins free throw and 52-49 lead.
Taylor Chambers spearheaded Whitman's final push. She stole the ball and raced full-court for a layin with 1:50 left, then swished a pull-up jumper off the dribble from the elbow to put the Blues ahead 53-52 with 1:13 to play.
But Spencer buried a deep 3 as the game clock slipped under one minute, then answered Natalie Whitesel's tying basket with a driving, go-head bucket of her own with :26 to go.
The Blues missed a contested layin and were forced to foul. Fox's Madison Hull made two free throws for a four-point lead with 12.6 left, and after Martin scored in the lane with 6.7 seconds left, pulling Whitman within 59-57, Spencer responded by making the clinching free throws.
Despite struggling -- at times mightily -- with George Fox's full-court press, the Blues sneaked into halftime with a 33-0 lead.
Whitman finished the second quarter on a 7-0 run; Natalie Whitesel dribbled through the press for a layin, Kaylie McCrackenscored inside on a pass from Whitesel, and Burdett rained in a transition 3-pointer to help the Blues salvage a difficult half.
Chambers was whistled for two quick first-quarter personals and another foul soon after returning to the court in the second quarter, forcing the Blues to play all but seven minutes of the first half without the conference leader in assists-per-40 minutes.
That handicap helped explain Whitman's uncharacteristic nine turnovers, upon which the visitors feasted during a pair of separating runs in the first half.
A 6-0 spurt gave Fox an 11-6 lead midway through the opening quarter, and the Bruins scored eight unanswered points to close the first quarter and open the second, stretching a 26-20 lead with 7:36 left in the half.
Stone carried Whitman early, scoring six of its first 10 points before Burdett got involved. A pair of free throws at the 5:45 mark seemed to get the junior sharpshooter in rhythm; she scored eight points down the quarter stretch, including a 3-pointer and three-point play over the final 2:02.
Whitesel had seven points and three assists for the Blues, and Chambers added four assists and two steals.
Whitman holds a one-game lead over the University of Puget Sound for second place in the conference standings with three games remaining.
The Blues host Linfield for Senior Night at 4 p.m. here Saturday, then conclude the regular season with games at UPS (6 p.m. on Feb. 15) and Pacific Lutheran University (4 p.m. on Feb. 16).