FRANKFORT, Ky. - On a day when Westmont (26-4) struggled with its shooting accuracy, Tugce Canitez came through big for the Warriors by posting 27 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing off six assists. As a result, number one seed Westmont got past eighth-seeded Cumberlands of Kentucky (18-13) by a score of 63-58 in the first round of the NAIA National Women's Basketball Tournament.
The Warriors advance to play fourth-seeded Rogers State of Oklahoma (24-9) in a second-round game on Friday at 2:15 p.m. EDT/11:15 a.m. PDT.
"Tugce played like the best player in the country today – and she is," said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. "She did everything out there for us today in a game when her teammates struggled. I think her teammates are going to play better tomorrow, now that they have this experience under their belts.
"We know we have to be a lot better tomorrow if we want a chance to win. (Rogers State) is an outstanding team. We need to have a quick turnaround, a quick recovery. I'm just looking forward to playing another day with this team."
Cumberlands had tremendous support from its bench, which accounted for 57.0 percent of the Patriots' scoring (33 of 58 points) and 52.4 percent of their rebounds (22 of 42). Jessica Upchurch, a reserve, led the Patriots in both categories with 11 points and 11 boards.
Despite shooting just 34.6 percent from the field in the first half (8 of 24) – including just one of 12 from three-point range – the Warriors held an eight-point lead as late as 4:10 in the opening frame. However, the Patriots closed out the half on a 7-0 run to pull within a point (24-23) at the intermission.
"We have been saying all season that defense and rebounding wins championships," said Moore. "We really had to rely on our defense tonight because our offense, other than Tugce, struggled to get going. We shot poorly from the perimeter and we didn't do as well on the boards as we needed to. We gave up way too many second-chance buckets to them."
"We've been a second-half team all year, so at halftime we talked about coming out and trying to extend our lead, which we did. It turned out that we needed that whole lead down the stretch."
Cumberlands took their only lead of the game by scoring first in the second half on a put-back jumper by Dace Bicane (6 points, 6 rebounds).
With just under 14 minutes left in regulation, Cumberlands tied the game at 35. Westmont's Esther Lee (14 points) responded by knocking down one of her four three-pointers, before Brooke Forsythe (7 points) scored to make it a 38-37 game with 12:39 to play.