Senior forward Kelsie Sampson tallied 27 points and six rebounds as No. 10 Westmont (16-7, 7-3 GSAC) defeated No. 15 Hope International (19-6, 7-3) by a score of 70-66 in the NAIA Women's Basketball Game of the Week. Sampson, the current Golden State Athletic Conference player of the week, made 11 of her 23 shots from the floor.
"Kelsie played great against double and triple teams," noted Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. "She was able to maintain composure and still finish."
Westmont's Esther Lee added 15 points while Celina Gougis contributed 14 points, five rebounds and five assists. Lauren Sende came off the bench to post 10 points and seven rebounds.
Hope International was led in scoring by Alexis Perry who tallied 17 points and four rebounds. Andrina Rendon added 10 points and 12 boards while Shawna Staves notched 10 points and five boards.
"It was a battle the whole time," said the coach. "Hope is playing really well. They beat us the first time (we played them this year), so this was an important game for us to bounce back and get a win. We had to fight for it every possession.
"They played great defense against us last time and again tonight. I thought we stayed composed against it even though we didn't execute as well as we would have liked. I thought we were able to attack their pressure a little bit more and get to the free throw line."
In the closely fought contest, neither team achieved a double-digit advantage at any point in the contest. Westmont held a six-point lead at the intermission (35-29) and pushed it to nine points (38-29) in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Royals, however, roared back with a 13-3 run to take a 42-41 lead with 13:23 to play. Over the next eight minutes, the lead changed hands, or the score was tied, 14 times as fans of both teams could be seen sitting on the edge of their seats.
With five and one-half minutes to go, Sampson hit a jumper assisted by Celina Gougis to make the score 56-53 in favor of the Warriors. Half a minute later, she added two free throws, putting the Warriors up by five.
The Royals responded with jumpers by Canning (6 points, 3 rebounds) and Staves, to cut the deficit to one (58-57) with 4:05 remaining on the game clock.
After Gougis made two free throws, Perry and Krystyn Jacobs (8 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) scored on back-to-back layups, to put the Royals ahead 61-60 with just under three minutes to play.
Before another minute would expire from the clock, the Warriors would get a layup from Gougis and a jumper from Sende to recapture a three-point Warrior advantage. Fifteen seconds later, Canning scored on a layup to make it a one-point game (64-63) with 1:51 remaining in regulation.
After both teams missed on their next possessions, Gougis came up big, hitting a shot from beyond the arc to put the Warriors by four (67-63) with 42 second remaining.
"Celina had a huge second half for us and made a lot of plays, but none were bigger than that three-point shot," said Moore.
Two field goals by Lee and one by Gougis gave the Warriors a seven-point advantage in the waning seconds. Before time expired, Jacobs drained a three-pointer for the Royals to account for the final score.
With four games remaining in the GSAC regular season, Westmont finds itself in a three-way tie for second place with Hope International and The Master's (19-6, 7-3). The Mustangs, who will be the Warriors' next opponent, lost tonight at Biola by a score of 74-61.
"The Master's is an excellent team and we have to go to their court," observed Moore. "We have to expect it to be a battle."
"It is getting down to the end where every game really matters. We want to be trying to play our best basketball here in the next couple of weeks and heading into March. We feel like we haven't peaked yet. We feel like we can keep getting better and keep improving and that continues to be our goal one day at a time."