LANCASTER — Laila Saenz made six of nine attempts from 3-point range to help lead the No. 1-ranked Westmont women’s basketball team (6-1) to an 82-56 win over the Pioneers of Antelope Valley (2-7).
Saenz tallied 22 points in the non-conference affair while shooting 70 percent from the floor during Saturday’s game.
“Laila is an incredible shooter,” said Kirsten Moore, who was coaching her 500th game for the Warriors. “The last couple of games Laila shot the lights out. She has been consistently doing that in practice. It’s not a fluke; we expect it and it is going to be an important dynamic for us this year.”
Iyree Jarrett added 17 points to the Warrior totals, making 11 of 11 from the free throw line. Jarrett also contributed seven assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Sydney Brown produced 12 second-quarter points on her way to 15 points and seven rebounds.
“It definitely wasn’t the prettiest game, but a win on the road is always good,” noted Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “There is a lot we can learn from this game as we prepare to go on the road for three straight GSAC games. I’m glad we had a road game to get in that mindset and get ready to go into the different environments and figure out how to be our best selves. I don’t think we were that tonight, but I think we can learn from that.”
The Warriors had a slow post-Thanksgiving start in the first quarter and found themselves trailing 9-6 midway through the opening frame.
“We had a good game from Syd Brown and were able to get a little more inside action going that helped us today,” Moore said. “We opened the game struggling from the perimeter, so we were able to go inside and get a little bit of momentum going that way.”
The Warriors’ offense kicked into gear in the latter half of the first quarter, outscoring Antelope Valley 10-3. Saenz sank two from long distance during the run while Stefanie Berberabe (11 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals) drained another.
Leading 23-19 with just less than seven minutes to play in the second quarter, the Warriors distanced themselves from the Pioneers with an 18-5 run to finish out the first half. Westmont benefited from charity-stripe accuracy in the second quarter, making 10 of 10 from the free throw line on their way to 19 of 23 in the game (82.6%).
“It was a really physical game,” reported Moore. “I thought we handled that well in the sense that we didn’t get flustered and went to the free throw line and knocked down the shots. Iyree and everyone else did a great job of that tonight. To take advantage of those opportunities when we get them is important.”
Westmont continued to stretch its advantage in the second half, leading by 22 points at the end of the third quarter (60-38) and 26 at game’s end.
As a team, the Warriors outrebounded the Pioneers 41-25, led by Destiny Okonkwo with nine and Gabriella Stoll with eight.
Moore, who is in her 17th year at the helm of the Warrior program, completed her first 500 games with a record of 376-124. Her .752 win percentage ranks 11th among active coaches in the NAIA and she has the 19th most wins among active coaches.
Moore has twice led the Warriors to national championships (2013, 2021) and has twice been named the NAIA Coach of the Year. Two of her players — Berberabe and Tugce Canitez— have been honored as the NAIA Player of the Year and 16 have earned NAIA All-American honors. In 2019, Moore was honored as the NAIA Coach of Character.
This week the Warriors hit the road for two conference road games starting with games at Arizona Christian on Thursday and Ottawa on Saturday.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.