Despite a last-second lay-in from senior Lauren Picha, the Whitworth women's basketball team came up short, falling 72-65 to Emory University in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in the Woodruff PE Center on Friday evening. Whitworth finishes the season with an overall record of 21-7.
"I feel like we played really hard," Whitworth head coach Helen Higgs said. "Emory played really hard and it was a really competitive, high intensity game, which is what we expected. (Emory's) run at the beginning of the second half that was the biggest difference in the game."
Emory got on the board first, but junior Kendra Lahue answered with a three-pointer to put Whitworth ahead. After a 5-5 tie, Whitworth went on a 9-4 run to jump out to a 14-9 lead at the first media timeout. Emory answered with a 7-2 run to tie the game 16-16 at the 12:07 mark. Lahue hit her fourth three-pointer of the game to give Whitworth its biggest lead, 31-24 with 6:50 remaining in the half, but the Eagles responded with an 11-0 run to take a 35-31 lead into the under 4:00 media timeout. Freshman KC McConnell came out of the timeout with a layup to pull the Pirates within two. Emory extended its lead to back to four points, but McConnell hit sophomore Kendra Knutsen, who hit a basket in the paint to pull Whitworth back within two. Whitworth trailed 37-35 at halftime.
Emory opened the second half with a three-pointer and followed it with two more to extend its lead to 14. Sophomore Katara Belton-Sharp pulled with Bucs within 10 with a pair of free throws. The Eagles went up by as many as 15 points, but a three-pointer from junior Jamie Lyons pulled the Pirates within 10 with 2:20 left to play. Belton-Sharp hit a three-pointer to pull the Pirates within seven, but Emory sank a pair of free throws to go back up by nine points. Picha's late lay-in pulled Whitworth within seven, but time ran out on the Pirates.
Whitworth finished the game with 10 steals that the Pirates turned into 14 points. The Pirates and the Eagles each had 35 rebounds, but Emory used 13 offensive boards to hold a 13-12 edge in second-chance points.
"It hurts that we lost, because this is a special team," Higgs said. "They play together; they have fun together and they've created great things all year long. It's been a great year for us. We got to come to the tournament. We were excited to (travel) someplace different and take on a quality team like Emory."
Junior Kayla Johnson led the Pirates with 15 points and eight rebounds. In addition to Lahue's 12 points, senior Emily Travis added nine points. Travis had six rebounds, while Katara Belton-Sharp grabbed five boards. Johnson also had three assists, while KC McConnell had three steals.
Emory was led by Hannah Lilly, who finished with a game-high 17 points. Misha Jackson and Danielle Landry each added 12 points for the Eagles. Jackson had a game-high nine rebounds, while Lilly and O'dez Oraedu each grabbed six rebounds. Savannah Morgan had a game-high eight assists, while Selena Castillo had three steals.
Emory improves to 23-3 and will advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.