With a core rotation of just six players, members of the Westmont women’s basketball team have every reason to feel exhausted ﹘﹘ but you’ll never hear that from them.
In fact, junior guard Lauren Tsuneishi said the team never uses what she called the “t-word.”
“With the roster the size that we have, I mean, there’s really no excuse to use the t-word because everyone is going to be tired, we don’t really need to talk about it,” said Tsuneishi after Westmont’s 83-60 win over Arizona Christian. “We just have to keep working hard and just do our best all around.”
The hard work for the No. 4 ranked Warriors paid off in a major way Thursday night at Murchison Gym, as Westmont poured in 17 3-pointers, just one shy of the team record set in January of 2019 against Saint Katherine.
Tsuneishi knocked in five of her 10 attempts from distance, including four of the team’s five first half 3-pointers. The Warriors went 12 for 23 from distance in the second half, outscoring the Firestorm 41-28 over the final 20 minutes.
Westmont (17-3, 9-1 in GSAC) took an 18-13 lead after the first quarter, in large part due to Tsuneishi’s shooting. Gabriella Stoll came off the bench and provided a big spark for the Warriors late in first quarter and into the second period. Stoll’s play, along with efficient play in the post from Kaitlin Larson, helped Westmont build a 42-32 lead at the break. Larson scored 14 points in the first half, making seven of her nine field-goal attempts.
“We’ve been really good lately about playing on the perimeter, and our coach told us to step it up inside so that’s what I was trying to do,” Larson said postgame.
Westmont did a good job in the second period finding Larson down low, and the post player was able to use her quickness and power to perfection. On multiple occasions, Westmont would swing the ball around the perimeter as Larson worked to gain position down low. More often than not, Iyree Jarrett or Stefanie Berberabe found Larson on the low block and the sophomore did the rest.
“When you’re only like 5-10 you’ve got to do something to try and get the ball, so I just try to be as aggressive as possible, even if I am undersized,” Larson said with a smile. “That’s just something you’ve got to do a little bit I guess.”
The Warriors opened the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 51-32 lead with 7:48 left in the third. As the Firestorm tried to stage their comeback, Berberabe was able to use her quickness to cause multiple steals and make things difficult for the Arizona Christian offense. Tsuneishi was also using her speed to help the hosts control the game in the second half. After the game, Larson joked that the two Westmont guards are so quick that even she has a tough time keeping track of them.
“It’s crazy. Sometimes I’ll be running back on defense and (Berberabe) will steal the ball and I won’t even realize it,” Larson said. “They’re both just all over the place and really awesome for our team.”
Berberabe and Tsuneishi finished with four and two steals, respectively.
The Warriors built a 63-42 lead heading into the fourth and proceeded to make six of their 10 3-point attempts to close out the game. Larson finished with season-high 25 points, one point shy of her career best.
“Kaitlin was just so dominant inside, and because she was dominant inside they really had to suck in on her, which really opened up the perimeter in the second half,” said Westmont coach Kirsten Moore. “We lead the nation in 3-point shooting, so that’s not something different for us, but I thought that our inside game really set the tone and opened that up in the second half.
“I don’t know if it was her number of what, but she’s number 24 and she had the best game of her season tonight. She’s a great player for us, there’s no doubt about it. She was an all-conference player last year, but this year she’s kind of struggled to find a rhythm. Tonight she just was dominant from tip to finish. She just was really, really efficient and had a great game.”
As is custom before every Westmont home game, the two teams met at center court prior to the tipoff and joined together for a group prayer. Jarrett led the prayer and made mention of the nine victims from Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas.
With the win, Westmont remains tied with The Masters atop the GSAC standings at 9-1. The two teams meet again Feb. 22 and the Warriors will look to avenge their 64-55 loss Jan. 18.
“One thing I know, and I’ve been saying this about my team since the beginning, is that we’re a resilient group,” Moore said. “We went through a lot of adversity before we ever got to play a game this year, so when adversity comes this team knows how to fight back. So far, adversity is continuing to make us a little stronger. Even that loss, it was ‘hey, what can we learn on how to make us better.’ Every single game is like a championship game now.”