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Wildcats Forestall Crusaders in GNAC Opener, 78-72


Mandy Steward knocked down a trio of threes, and finished with 15 points, as the Central Washington University women's basketball team (5-1, 1-0) recorded a win in its Great Northwest Athletic Conference opener against Northwest Nazarene (1-5, 0-1), 78-72.

"What a battle tonight," CWU Head Coach Jeff Harada said.  "I think it was a gut check for us in the fourth quarter and in the last five minutes. I'm just really proud of our kids tonight. NNU is a good team and I think they are going to beat a lot of teams this year. They kind of came back and we knew they would make a run and make it interesting in the end. I was just happy our team was able to respond and fight off their run and pull it out."

A tight first quarter saw the Crusaders hold the lead for the majority of the first 10 minutes of play. Logan Ellie gave NNU a 9-8 lead, with 6:14 on the clock, that the Crusaders held until a three-pointer by Melanie Valdez with 1:02 left gave CWU a 16-15 lead.

With 19 seconds left, Ellie put in a layup, giving the Crusaders another one-point lead, but Jasmine Parker's jumper snuffed it out with three seconds left in the opening act.

Central went into the second quarter with an 18-17 lead.

The Wildcats found their rhythm in the second quarter.  Steward knocked down a jumper, extending the lead to 20-17.  Less than 40 seconds later, a block by Parker was rebounded by Alexis Berrysmith.  The Wildcats turned their possession into a trey by Steward and a 23-17 lead.  Central went on a 10-0 run to open the second quarter.

Steward recorded 10 points in the second quarter.

"Mandy is someone who we know can score the basketball. She was able to get some early looks tonight and got her confidence going and shot the ball pretty well," Harada said of his freshman guard.  "She's on the those kids who has a lot of confidence, and we kind of make a joke about her that she is a microwave coming off the bench. Those points she had tonight were big, they helped give us a lead in the first half and if she can continue to do that for us this season it's going to help us a lot."

Central went into the locker room with a 42-29 lead at the half.

In the third quarter, CWU extended its lead to 15 on a free throw by Jasmin Edwards, 56-41.

Edwards finished with 12 points, seven assists, and six steals.  Her six steals are third-most in a single-game by one player in CWU history.

The Crusaders swung momentum in their favor with a steal by Logan and began chipping away at the Wildcats lead.  Northwest Nazarene cut CWU's lead down to 56-48 with 48 seconds left, but Steward nailed a three with 12 seconds left extending the Wildcats' lead to double digits entering the fourth quarter.

Northwest Nazarene started the fourth by cutting the Wildcats' lead to five, 59-54.  Central picked up six unanswered points, extending the lead to 63-54 with 6:44 left in regulation.

The ever-persistent Crusaders continued to battle, chipping away at Central Washington's lead.  With 1:03 remaining, NNU's Lexi Tubbs knocked down a three-point shot, cutting CWU's lead to five at 74-69.

JonNae Richardson was then fouled Katie Swanson with 30 seconds remaining.  Richardson converted both shots from the charity stripe, giving CWU a 76-69 lead.

Tubbs knocked down another three for the Crusaders and cut the deficit to just four with 11 seconds remaining, 76-72.

With seven seconds remaining, Valdez was fouled by Tubbs and made both free throws.

The Crusaders took possession needing six points in seven seconds, but Berrysmith eliminated their hopes with a block.

Berrysmith finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

"She lost a contact early in the first half," Harada said about Berrysmith. "She had to sit until she got a replacement and I thought that kept her fresh down the stretch. I challenged seniors [Alexis Berrysmith, Jasmine Parker and India Matheson] to not let NNU outrebound us. One of the keys to this game was whoever won on the boards probably won the game. Sure enough we outrebounded them by 11. They came into this game averaging 22 offensive rebounds and we limited them to just 11. I think the seniors responded well."

The Wildcats head to Billings, Montana next for a Thursday GNAC matchup against Montana State University Billings.  Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. PDT

"It's rough, but we have to do it," Harada noted.  "It's an early morning tomorrow traveling to Seattle and hoping on a plane and playing a tough team on the road. They're a good team and tough at home. My message to the team tonight was to stay focused and work on what we have to work on. I asked them to focus for the next 48 hours so we're locked in and ready to go."