THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Despite leading for 49 minutes, CLU fans had to hold their breath until the last second when a Westmont in-bounds was stolen away before they could celebrate as the Cal Lutheran women’s basketball team knocked off undefeated NAIA No. 7 Westmont 49-48 Friday night in Gilbert Arena.
“I don’t think anybody in the country has played a preseason schedule like us,” head coach Roy Dow said. “This team has learned the lessons from playing challenging games this year and in the past and I think it showed our growth tonight.”
Cal Lutheran stepped up their defense, frustrating 2011-12 NAIA Player of the Year Tugice America Canitez with double and triple-teams all night while holding her to just nine points, ten below her season average. Channing Fleischmann was in charge of guarding the star forward.
“Playing against her last year, you know she’s going to drive and the offense is going to go through her. But I just had it in my mind that if I shut her down, I trust my team can shut the rest of their team down.”
Fleischmann was a part of Regal defense that held Westmont 27 points below their season average while allowing the Warriors to shoot just 36 percent from the field.
Much like the first half, the second played out with CLU controlling the momentum and building a big lead before Westmont would rally down the stretch.
With 10:21 left in game, Whitley stole the ball and drove the court and finished with a lay-up to put CLU up 44-36, forcing Westmont to call a timeout to halt the Regals momentum.
“Their defense was really out on our shooters,” said the Regals leading scorer Erica Whitley. “I wanted to go to the glass and make them play the drive more. It worked in our favor tonight.”
Despite Whitley’s heroics on the offensive end, Westmont stayed the course and continued to chip away at the CLU lead.
Celina Gougis would head the Warrior comeback, scoring six points over three minutes, pulling Westmont to within one with six minutes left to play.
The Warriors would finally tie it up at 46 after Canitez hit one of two free-throws with 4:56 left in the second half.
However, CLU would respond. After a steal from Whitley, the senior from Oxnard, Calif. would get fouled on the following possession. Whitley would hit one of two free throws to put CLU back up 47-46 with 4:22 to play.
Gougis would roll in a lay-up a minute later to reclaim the Warrior lead at 48-47 but CLU responded as Whitley found Rachel Heagy in the post and the six-foot-one post laid it in to give CLU the lead at 49-48.
Westmont would have the final possession with 29 seconds left but were unable to come up with a shot. The Warriors would get one last shot from the baseline with .003 seconds left but Starla Wright knocked the pass away and CLU earned its fourth victory of the year.
Whitley finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and 13 rebounds. Wright also finished with 12 points each while Fleischmann scored eight.
Esther Lee led the Warriors with 15 first half points but did not record a single basket in the second half. Gougis was second with 12 points Canitez finished nine.
With the win, Cal Lutheran improves to 4-1 while Westmont drops their first game of the year and falls to 7-1.
CLU also avenges a 63-38 loss against the Warriors nearly a year ago.
Cal Lutheran will be back in action tomorrow, Dec. 1, as they open SCIAC play against Caltech. Tip-off is set for 5:00 p.m. in Gilbert Arena.
Box Score: CLU 49 Westmont 48