Evan Zars and Danni Nichols power Western to road victory

Alex Staab, Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — For the final time in league play, the Western Illinois women’s basketball team (13-11, 7-4) made a road trip to the Mastodons of Purdue Fort Wayne (5-18, 1-9). Sophomore forward Evan Zars and redshirt sophomore guard Danni Nichols combined to score 50 of the Leathernecks’ 83 points in an 83-74 win.

The Mastodons got off to a good start, getting a layup to go roughly two minutes in to go up 6-2. The Leathernecks were unable to tie or take the lead until a three from redshirt junior guard Sam Pryor at the 4:36 mark of the quarter put Western Illinois in front, 10-8. Purdue Fort Wayne never lead again the rest of the quarter. Nichols iced the quarter, scoring with a jumper to go up six. The Mastodons answered later and set the score at the break favoring the visitors, 20-16.

Western Illinois did not take long to return to the scoring column, as senior guard Olivia Kaufmann got the ball rolling just 25 seconds into the quarter. A Nichols jumper made it an eight-point lead about three minutes through. Both teams then struggled to find the scoring column for a couple of minutes. After the scoring resumed, it was the Mastodons that worked their way back into the game, tying it up at 29 off a three from senior guard Hannah Albrecht. Nobody would have a multiple-possession lead in the quarter. Zars hit a three with less than a minute left to set the halftime score of 38-36, Western Illinois.

The Leathernecks did all they could to keep a solid string of momentum on their side, reaching to a 10-point lead when Nichols got a fast-break bucket to go, forcing a Purdue Fort Wayne timeout. It continued to be a back-and forth battle, with the Mastodons not allowing Western Illinois to go back up 10. An Albrecht jumper put the home team within seven with just a quarter to go.

The single-digit lead didn’t last much longer, as the Leathernecks got a shot from Zars to go ahead 67-56 with eight minutes to go. Yet, the Mastodons we’re going down without a fight, getting within 78-72 with a mere 1:24 to go.

Nichols and redshirt freshman guard Carla Flores split the scoring the rest of the way to send the Leathernecks home with a nine-point win. Zars (25) and Nichols (25) led the scoring attack, with Kaufmann (15) also breaking double figures. Zars brought in a team-high nine rebounds, while Kaufmann dished out five assists. Zars also had three blocks.

The Leathernecks have an extended break from games before traveling to league-leading and No. 22-ranked South Dakota on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.