ATHERTON — The Westmont women’s basketball team (22-3, 15-2 GSAC) won its eighth consecutive game on Thursday night, this time by a score of 59-50 against Menlo (15-10, 10-7).
Following the win over the Oaks, Westmont clinched the top-seed in the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament.
Westmont clinched the one seed due to owning the tiebreakers over both The Master’s and Hope International, while possessing a one-game lead for first place. The Warriors enter Saturday’s regular season finale with a win in between them and another standalone GSAC title.
“I’m just really proud of my guys for sticking with it tonight in a really physical game,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “Nothing came easy and Menlo played really tough defense, but we stuck with it and worked together. We made a lot of big plays and showed our experience by coming through when we needed it.”
By their own standards, Westmont was late to the party on Thursday, making just two field goals over the first seven minutes of the contest. After a free throw by the Oaks opened the scoring, Laila Saenz drilled a 3-pointer to give Westmont the 3-1 advantage.
Then a layup and a three from Menlo gave the Oaks a 6-3 lead that left Westmont chasing for the majority of the first quarter. At one point, Westmont went nearly four minutes without scoring, with Saenz ending the drought with a layup to trim the deficit to 10-7 with 2:48 remaining.
A minute later, Iyree Jarrett gave the Warriors a temporary lead at 11-10 with a layup of her own, but at the end of the first quarter, the Oaks had done enough to carry a 14-13 lead into the short break.
Westmont shot just four of 12 from the field in the first quarter, while, uncharacteristically, committing four turnovers. Westmont also surrendered five offensive rebounds to the Oaks.
Saenz scored the first basket of the second quarter, putting the Warriors up 15-14 with 8:28 left in the half. A minute and a half later, however, Menlo responded with another 3-pointer, putting the Oaks up 17-15.
Then with 5:45 left in the period, Menlo stretched their lead to 19-15 following a jumper from Jordyn Rossette. Over the next two minutes, Destiny Okonkwo hit a free throw to pull Westmont back within three, and Saenz landed a shot from beyond the arc to tie the contest at 19.
With 3:06 to play, Jarrett kicked a pass out to Sydney Brown who launched a three-pointer as the shot clock sounded. Brown hit the shot to put the Warriors up 22-19, and Kaitlin Larson followed it up with a layup to put them up 24-19.
The club would not trail again.
On their final two possessions of the half, Jarrett drilled a three and Okonkwo converted a layup to cap off a 16-2 run. That run, over the final 5:15 of the period, gave Westmont a 31-21 lead going into halftime.
Early on in the third quarter, Westmont led by as many as 13. However, the Oaks would not let the Warriors run away with the contest, and the home team closed out the period on a 14-5 run. Going into the fourth quarter, Westmont led 43-39.
Westmont did not score for the final two minutes of the third, nor did they for the first two minutes of the fourth, allowing Menlo to make it a one possession game. With 7:33 left in regulation, Saenz hit another three-pointer, this time putting the Warriors back up by two possessions at 46-41.
With under five minutes to play, Westmont ran off a quick five-point swing that felt like the dagger. First, Larson converted another layup, and then, Saenz hit her fourth three-pointer of the night, giving Westmont a 53-43 lead with less than four minutes to play.
“I thought Laila had an incredible game tonight,” noted Moore. “She hit some big shots and really helped us on the boards as well.”
In the final minutes, Menlo never got back within less than six, and the Warriors were able to overcome their shooting woes to win it 59-50.
Westmont shot just 37.3% from the field (19-51) in the contest while committing 12 turnovers. Fortunately for the Warriors, however, they held the Oaks to a similar clip at 38.6% (22-57). Westmont outrebounded Menlo 37-33, with the biggest difference in the ballgame being what the clubs did with their extra possessions.
While Menlo was able to grab 12 offensive boards, they turned that into only six second-chance points, while Westmont turned their 13 offensive rebounds into 18 extra points.
Individually, Jarett and Saenz both had 16 points, while Okonkwo joined them in double figures with 11. Jarret also led the club with six assists, while Brown led Westmont with nine rebounds.
“In a really physical game, Iyree came up big,” reflected Moore. “She didn’t get flustered and she stayed the course, leading us in assists and scoring some big buckets. Everyone had moments for us tonight.
“Kaitlin was huge off the bench, giving us toughness and a spark. Destiny made some really big plays for us down the stretch as well.”
The last team standing in the way of the Warriors and the regular season title is William Jessup (14-15, 9-8), who the club will play on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
“Hopefully we can continue building momentum towards the team we want to be in the postseason,” said Moore. “I’d like to see us play a cleaner game offensively and execute a little bit better, while continuing to make the tough plays when we need to.”
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.