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Overachieving Westminster Griffins aim to make noise in NAIA Tournament

Published: Monday, March 15 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Westminster can find plenty of reasons to feel good about how well its women's basketball season has played out so far.

The Griffins finished the regular season ranked ninth in the NAIA Top 25 Coaches Poll and took home a regular season Frontier Conference championship for a second straight year. McKenzie Jessop earned player of the year honors and J.D. Gustin was selected as the coach of year for a second consecutive season.

And with a No. 3 seed going into this week's NAIA Tournament, Westminster finds itself in a good position to make some noise in Jackson, Tenn.

It serves as a testament to how much the Griffins have exceeded expectations in a season where they had to replace several key contributors from a season ago and dealt with season-ending injuries to a couple of important players along the way.

"We've been through so much adversity," Gustin said. "This group has totally overachieved."

The latest bit of that adversity came with the loss of freshman guard Allie Eastman, when she suffered a season-ending injury in a regular season game against Carroll College last month. Eastman, a freshman, had distinguished herself as one of the team's best wing defenders.

Without her in the lineup, Gustin worried his team's defense would take a huge hit.

"When she went down, I wasn't sure we were going to win another game to be honest with you," Gustin said. "This group has found a way to win."

Indeed, the only defeat for the Griffins since losing Eastman came at the hands of Lewis-Clark State when the 13th ranked Warriors walked away from Behnken Field House with an 80-60 victory in the Frontier Conference Tournament championship game.

The loss left behind a bad taste for Westminster. Bouncing back from that defeat, however, is a small matter for a team used to dealing with adversity.

"This is just one loss," senior guard Keisha Catten said. "We knew we were going to nationals already. We wanted to win, but we still have more games to play."

The Griffins' first chance to get on a winning track once again comes Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. when they face Lambuth University in the first round of the NAIA Tournament.

GOING TO KANSAS: It took 45 years, but the College of Eastern Utah has finally returned to the NJCAA Men's Basketball Tournament after edging Mesa Community College 65-64 in overtime to win the District 1 Championship game last week

Trailing 52-49 with 3:53 left in regulation, the Eagles went on an 8-2 run and took a 57-54 lead on a put back basket from Jonathan Mills with 1:27 remaining. The T-Birds forced overtime, however, when Stephen Rogers — who finished with 27 points — drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The lead changed hands until CEU scored a final go-ahead basket when Nick Thompson threw down an alley-oop jam with 16 seconds left.

Scenic West Athletic Conference player of the year Michael Glover led the way for the Eagles with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

CEU will play North Platte Community College in the first round on Tuesday in Hutchinson, Kan. Tip time is at 5:30 p.m. Video links to all NJCAA games will be available at www.njcaa.org/tv.

ONE AND DONE: Dixie State's first trip to the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament ended in a decidedly unmemorable fashion. The fifth-seeded Red Storm trailed from start to finish in a 71-62 loss to fourth-seeded Cal Poly Pomona on Friday in Bellingham, Wash.

The Broncos held Dixie State without a field goal for a stretch lasting nearly nine minutes in the second half, which allowed them to build a double-digit lead and hold onto it. The Red Storm struggled to get on track offensively through both halves. They shot 34 percent from the field overall and went 4-of-20 (20 percent) from three-point range.

Donovan Plunkett scored 16 points and Tom Whitehead added 13 to lead the Red Storm, who earned a NCAA Division II berth after claiming a share of the Pac West Conference title.

e-mail: jcoon@desnews.com

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