MESA, Ariz. — The second-ranked Westmont women’s basketball team (10-2) suffered a 67-55 loss to No. 5 Carroll, Mont., in the Warriors’ first game at the Cactus Classic on Tuesday afternoon.
Carroll improved to 12-2 on the year.
The Warriors were held scoreless for nearly six minutes to start the game, allowing the Fighting Saints to jump out to an 8-0 lead. Stefanie Berberabe took the lid off the basket for the Warriors with a layup, but Westmont continued to struggle offensively.
“Defensively, we weren’t where we needed to be at the start of the game,” acknowledged Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “After the first few minutes, I thought we played tough defense the rest of the game. It was a step in the right direction, but for the veteran team that we are, we can’t get ourselves in a position against another top-five team where we have to do that every time.
“We have to have some better starts on the defensive end of the floor. Obviously, it wouldn’t have been so drastic if we could have hit a couple of shots. The combination of the two made for a tough start. Then we played pretty even the rest of the way out.”
With two and one-half minutes to play in the second quarter, the Saints took their largest lead of the game (23-10) on a free throw by Danielle Wagner. Westmont responded with a three by Laila Saenz, her first of three buckets from beyond the arc, cutting the deficit to 10 points (23-13).
After Emma Madsen sank two from the charity stripe for the Saints, Berberabe made a mid-range jump shot to make the score 25-15. Wagner then drained a 3-pointer for Carroll with 1:13 to play before intermission, but Saenz struck again from long distance, making the score 28-18.
“I thought Laila kept us right in it in the first half with Iyree in foul trouble on a couple of interesting offensive foul calls,” Coach Moore said. “Laila was super steady and hit some big shots.”
After a defensive stop by the Warriors, Berberabe delivered another jump shot to send the Warriors to the locker room down by eight (28-20).
A minute and one-half into the third quarter, Berberabe converted an and-one opportunity to draw the Warriors to within four (29-25). However, Westmont would get no closer in the penultimate frame and Carroll ended the quarter with an eight-point advantage (45-37).
The first three minutes of the fourth quarter saw the Warriors produce a 9-3 run to make it a two-point ball game (48-46). Berberabe scored on a jumper, Iyree Jarrett scored three on an and-one play, Saenz hit a jump shot and Destiny Okonkwo (four points, six rebounds) deposited a second-chance layup to account for the run.
The Warriors were still within four (52-48) with under three minutes remaining, but were unable to pull any closer.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,” said Moore. “We made a lot of runs back and cut it to two, but couldn’t get it past that. Credit to them — I thought we played some really tough possessions of defense and they were able to hit tough shots.
“In the second half, Destiny’s presence on the defensive end, as well as the offensive end, was great. Stef was hounding the ball during the comeback, making everything super tough on them.
“It has to be a team effort, and it was in those possessions where we were making those comebacks. You could see the defensive energy from all five of our players heighten. That is something to build on.
“We saw some flashes of how good we can be. We haven’t put it all together yet and our health is far from full strength. I think there are encouraging things to take from today, but at the same time, obviously, it stings. We know we have to get better, and we truly believe we can be a better team than we were today.”
Berberabe led the Warriors in scoring with 18 points while adding three rebounds. Saenz ended with 13 points while Jarrett notched 12 and collected four rebounds. Brown recorded seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Warriors will remain in Arizona for a second game today, taking on the Orediggers of Montana Tech at 2 p.m. MST (1:00 p.m. PST) at Chandler Gilbert Community College.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.