Sayer 3-Pointer Gives NWC Win In Home Opener
It had been a rocky start to the 2018-19 season for the Northwest College women’s basketball team, which limped into Tuesday’s home opener against Rocky Mountain JV with an 0-5 record following a brutal road stretch of games.
But the Lady Trappers were competitive in those losses, and in front of a boisterous crowd at Cabre Gym, it all came together. Northwest started fast and sustained that energy down the stretch. With the game tied 66-66 in the closing moments of regulation, sophomore Tayla Sayer hit the clutch shot of her NWC career. As the buzzer sounded, Sayer launched a 3-pointer that banked high off the glass and went in, giving the rejuvenated Lady Trappers a 69-66 home win.
“It feels great,” said first-year head coach Camden Levett. “It’s not an ideal first win — we would have liked to have one of those on the road — but to come back home and have a home win in front of our fans is a good way to get that first win, especially in the fashion that we did it.”
The Lady Trappers started fast, jumping out to a 17-4 lead in the game’s opening minutes behind the shooting of freshmen Tess Henry and Selena Cudney.
“We pushed the ball quicker than we have; the pace of the game was in our favor,” Levett said. “We got into some ball screens, we drove the ball well and kicked it out for timely 3s.”
Rocky settled in, however, going on a 14-point run to go up 18-17. The two teams swapped lead changes before Northwest retook the lead on a 3-pointer by sophomore Kaylee Brown, holding it for the rest of the first half. The Lady Trappers went into the break with a 33-31 lead.
“We started to play like a team,” Sayer said of the first half. “The last few games, we’ve been more selfish, but this game, we were cheering for each other and making things happen together.”
The second half started much like the first, with Northwest rattling off 13 unanswered points to take a 46-31 advantage. Sayer hit back-to-back 3-pointers in that stretch, along with timely shots from Henry, Cudney and Brown.
“Tayla Sayer ran the point for us tonight, and had a double-double from the point guard spot,” Levett said. “She had a game.”
The Lady Bears weren’t ready to roll over just yet, however, chipping away at the lead until finally tying it up at 66-66 with just over a minute to play. An offensive foul by Brown gave Rocky the ball back with 34 seconds left, but Lady Bear Josie Hokanson’s shot to tie rimmed out, rebounded by Sayer. After a timeout and a Rocky foul, Northwest inbounded and freshman Juliana Ribeiro kicked the ball out to Sayer, who nailed the shot for the win.
“That was the luckiest shot; there was no skill involved in that,” Sayer said, laughing. “Anyone could have done that; I just chucked it up.”
Asked about Northwest’s fast start, Levett said that has been a point of emphasis in practice as of late, as the team had been slow out of the gate in earlier games.
“I told the girls that we were sticking with the same starters we had been, and that I had a lot of faith in them. It was time for them to go out and prove they could get a game started,” he said. “I think our kids competed their butts off today. We all wanted that win, the first one is the toughest.”
Four of Northwest’s five starters scored in double digits, led by Henry with 15 points and Brown with 12. Sayer and Cudney recorded double-doubles, with Sawyer netting 11 points and 10 boards, including three 3-pointers. Cudney followed with 10 points and 11 boards.
“Tonight felt great,” Cudney said. “We’ve been trying to get over the hump, and we finally got the win. We just settled down — usually we’re quick and that leads to turnovers. But we just settled down and ran our plays, and good things happened.”
The win was a team effort, with every player suited up playing significant minutes. Berkley Larsen led the bench with seven points and four rebounds, followed by Jena Lohrenz with five points and Shelby Wardell with four.
“We’ve got a team right now where a lot of different people can do a lot of different things,” Levett said. “We kind of ‘plug and play,’ and whoever has the hot hand on a given night is probably going to be out there a little longer. I think our bench did a great job tonight. Whether they played 20 minutes or two minutes, when their number was called, they were ready to go.”
Sayer led the team in steals with seven, while Brown and Ribeiro finished with three assists apiece.
The Lady Trappers were on the road again Wednesday for a quick trip to Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. They’ll then have a week off for Thanksgiving before taking the court again on Black Friday at the Lion’s Club Classic in Sheridan. Fouls were an issue against Rocky and Levett said he’ll address that before the trip to Sheridan.
“We’re a team that likes to go out and have good ball pressure, but we’re just fouling a little too much,” he said. “Nobody really got into foul trouble for us, so that was good — at least we were spreading it out. But we need to play solid defense without fouling. We’re a little undersized and we’re going to be that way all year, so we need to front the post and have better help-side defense.”
Asked what he told his team in the locker room after the game, Levett chuckled and shook his head.
“I told them ‘We got the monkey off our backs, ladies,’” he said. “I also told them they’re giving me gray hair, and I’m too young for that.”