Necks keep gaining momentum


Becca Langys/ Photo Editor

Morgan Blumer reaches out for the steal.

Titus Perez, Courier Staff

DENVER, Co. — The Western Illinois Leathernecks (21-8, 10-4 Summit) women’s basketball team was in action Saturday against the University of Denver Pioneers (16-13, 7-7 Summit) in Denver. In the final regular season game for both teams, Denver wanted to try to end the season fourth in the Summit League standings, while Western was already cemented as third regardless of the game’s outcome.

The first quarter got off to a slow start for both teams as Denver kicked things off with a made three by Sydney Koel, followed by an Emily Clemens lay-up for the Leathernecks. The rest of the quarter was a defensive struggle as Neither team could pull away because their offenses could not get going. Western went a dreadful one-for-nine from behind the arc in the opening quarter as they ended the opening stanza trailing the Pioneers 14-13. The only thing that kept Western in the game early was their defense. Clemens lead the charge as she stole the ball away three times in the quarter. Senior guard Michele Farrow also added in two steals for the Leathernecks in the quarter, helping the Leathernecks’ defense keep Denver at bay.

In the second quarter the ladies of the Purple and Gold started to break out. Their defense stayed strong and their offense started to click. They were able to outscore the Pioneers 30-13 in the quarter. After shooting awfully in the first period, the Leathernecks turned it around and made seven of their nine attempts from three in the second.

Denver didn’t have an answer as they continued to struggle from the field. The game started to swing in the middle of the second quarter when Western took the lead at 18-16 on a Clemens three pointer. Western continued its assault and got the lead up to 13 before the Pioneers made their first field goal and ended a drought that lasted over five minutes on sophomore’s guard Laura Loven’s three.

The made Denver three was followed by two successful free throws on the next possession by Loven, cutting the Leathernecks lead to 35-27 with 3:13 left in the half. The Leathernecks would respond by the way of junior guard Taylor Higginbotham.

After a made free throw to kick the lead to nine by Krishna Merriman, Higginbotham scored the final seven points of the half to give the Leathernecks a 43-27 lead going into the break.

The third quarter was a back and forth affair. Denver was not able to trim the lead as the Leathernecks answered their every basket. Senior guard Morgan Blumer along with Higginbotham and Clemns scored all but two of the Leathernecks 17 third quarter points as they held onto a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, 60-46. The fourth quarter was the same as the two teams traded baskets all quarter long. Denver fought back and got the lead down to eight with 7:54 left in the game, but could not get any closer. Western, led by Clemens who ended the game with 28 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six steals was able close out the game and win by an eventual score of 77-61.

Higginbotham added 20 points, going four-for-nine from the three-point line as Western earned their 21st win of the season. The latter part of their 2-0 road trip marks the end of Western’s regular season.

“Denver is such a dangerous team, and when we didn’t get off to a great start it could have really affected us. We played good defense, forced a ton of turnovers and eventually got our offense going.“ Gravina said. “I’m extremely proud of the 21-win regular season, especially with a tough schedule that included four paid non-league games.”

Western was able to win this game despite losing the rebound battle 56-40 and getting outscored off the bench 29-3. The 32 forced turnovers took care of that as they were able to score 30 points off turnovers compared to Denver’s 10. Western will end the Summit League regular season in 3rd, while Denver finishes in 5th. The Leathernecks won’t be in action again until the Summit League conference tournament which is set to begin on March 3.

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