Westminster basketball: clutch free throws by Wells leads Griffins to tournament title
Kelsi Wells made two free throws with 5.3 seconds on the clock to secure a second-straight Frontier Conference Tournament championship for the No. 3 Westminster College women’s basketball team on Tuesday night in the Behnken Field House. Top-seeded Westminster (24-2) used the late free throws for a 59-58 win over No. 15 Lewis-Clark State in the conference title game.
“You assume it’s going to be a barn burner,” head coach Shelley Jarrard said after the win. “LC is a really good team and when they shoot the three they are really scary.”
Wells drove the baseline as time was running out and drew a foul from Megan Risinger. After Wells made the first of her two attempts, second-seeded Lewis-Clark State (26-5) called a timeout. After the break, a calm Wells stepped up and gave the Griffins the lead. Caelyn Orlandi of LC State would bring the ball into the frontcourt, but Alli Blake deflected it off her knee for a turnover as time expired.
“I was just thinking I was going to make them,” Wells said after the game when asked about those final two free throws. “We really wanted this one because we were 0-5 against (LC State) in previous championship games.”
Jarrard said it was great to see Wells handle the pressure and come through to help the team win.
“I was so happy for Kelsi that she was able to make those free throws,” Jarrard commented. “As a senior it was good for her to come through.”
It looked like the Griffins were going to put the game away after they scored six-straight points to turn a 44-44 tie into a 50-44 lead with 6:08 to play. LC State would rally, and when Risinger made a layup with 1:56 to play the Warriors held a lead of 56-55. After Blake made a pair of free throws to retake the lead at the 1:28 mark, the Warriors used a hoop by Loree Hill to put them in front and set up the final Griffin possession.
Blake helped the Griffins overcome a tough shooting night by scoring a game-high 20 points. She finished 8-of-15 from the floor and made four of her six free throw attempts. The senior also grabbed six rebounds with five assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
Westminster shot just 40.8 percent from the floor in the game and was just 4-of-17 from beyond the arc. The Griffins had a slim 32-31 edge on the boards, and they scored nine points form nine offensive rebounds. They also forced LC State into 15 turnovers, which resulted in 17 points for the Griffins.
Wells finished with 11 points and was 4-for-4 at the foul line. Her lone three for the evening came at the buzzer of the first half to send Westminster into the locker room with a 27-21 advantage. Shelby Ellsworth had six points, six rebounds and three assists in just 25 minutes due to foul trouble. Alli Winters used two treys – including one to break the 44-44 deadlock – to finish with six points. Amy Krommenhoek scored seven points off the bench.
“Surviving Shelby and Tia (Pappas) playing just 25 minutes was a huge deal,” Jarrard said. “We were able to survive this game even with them shooting 54 percent in the second half.”
LC State shot 54.2 percent from the floor in the second half to finish the game at 41.2 percent. The Warriors went 9-of-21 from beyond the arc with Brittaney Niebergall making four and Caelyn Orlandi connecting on three. Tanis Fuller led LCSC with 18 points and four assists. Niebergall added 14 points and six steals with Orlandi scoring 12.
With the win, Westminster earns the automatic invite into the NAIA National Championships later this month in Frankfort, Ky. The bracket for the 32-team tournament will be unveiled live on the NAIA website on Wednesday at 6 p.m. MDT.
“It is hard to win both the regular season and tournament championships,” Jarrard said of her team accomplishing that feat in consecutive years. “I don’t think it is that important and sometimes you just need things to go your way.”
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