Coach Bryan Austin called it a complete team effort on both ends of the floor as the Southwestern women knocked off Iowa Lakes, 77-56, in the Region XI-A semifinals Tuesday night.
It was a history-making performance for the Spartans, who improved to 12-10 for the season. Since the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference switched to higher seeds hosting regional games instead of one tournament site several years ago, this was Southwestern’s first postseason victory on their home court. Last year was the first time the Spartans were seeded high enough to host a home game, falling in the first round.
Sophomore Brielle Baker of Creston, playing her final game in her hometown, said it was enjoyable to be a part of a new standard set by this Spartan squad.
“It was fun,” Baker said after scoring 11 points in the balanced offensive effort. “We locked in defensively with better communication after the first quarter and just played good team basketball. This group, we all play together and support each other, so it’s really special.”
Creston Community High School’s all-time steals leader had a fitting end to her home career, getting a steal off a stripped dribble leading to a layup with 16 seconds left, punctuating the playoff win.
After the two teams had split two regular season matchups, it looked to be another battle to the finish when the first quarter ended in a 15-15 tie. During that opening quarter, Iowa Lakes freshman guard Rachel Puok made three 3-pointers in an 11-point quarter. She finished with 14 points as the Spartan defense tightened in taking a 33-23 halftime lead.
“You expect good players to hit some shots and number 24 (Puok) is a phenomenal player for them,” Austin said. “She hit some buckets early, and then we contested those shots better. The girls really executed our defensive plan with some great team defense today.”
The offense was clicking, too. A 28-17 third quarter lifted the Spartans to a commanding 61-40 lead entering the fourth quarter.
A key sequence occurred in the final 2:40 of the period. The Spartan defense got a stop by forcing a turnover with two seconds left on Iowa Lakes’ shot clock. Alyssa Morris drained successive 3-pointers at the top of the key and Whynter Waterhouse-Brennan sank two free throws to quickly boost the margin to 16 points at 54-38.
Jordan Richards added another triple, Waterhouse-Brennan scored inside and then ended the period by grabbing a teammate’s miss with a putback at the buzzer for a 21-point lead after three quarters.
The lead stretched to 25 points before Iowa Lakes chipped away down the stretch to get within 14 points in the final two minutes.
Waterhouse-Brennan, sophomore from Melbourne, Australia, led the Spartans with 24 points. Tucker was a strong leader at point guard with several drives down the left side of the lane and finished with 18 points. Morris finished with 14 and Baker provided 11 to put four Spartans in double figures.
Madison Houg led Iowa Lakes with 16 points and Puok was next with 14.
In the other XI-A semifinal game, second-ranked Kirkwood cruised past Ellsworth 80-50. The Eagles host Southwestern at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Region XI-A championship and a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. Earlier this season, Kirkwood topped Southwestern 86-45 and 77-51.
“If we can play team defense like we did tonight, I think it will be a different outcome,” Austin said.
On a related note, Southwestern’s men also secured a big regional victory at Iowa Western Community College, 81-76. The Spartans advance to the regional semifinals on Thursday against eighth-seeded Ellsworth, which upset top-seeded DMACC on Tuesday, 66-64.
SWCC 77, Iowa Lakes 56
SOUTHWESTERN (FG FT PTS) — Totals — 30 14-23 75.. Whynter Waterhouse-Brennan 5 5-7 24, Kaylynn Tucker 8 1-1 18, Alyssa Morris 5 2-4 14, Brielle Baker 4 2-4 11, Miracle Allen 1 2-4 4, Patricia Sherrill 1 2-3 3, Jordan Richards 1 0-0 3. 3-point goals — 8 (Tucker 2, Morris 2, Waterhouse-Brennan 2, Baker 1, Richards 1). Team fouls — 10. Fouled out — None.
IOWA LAKES(FG FT PTS) — Totals —24 5-6 53. Madison Hough 7 0-0 16, Rachel Puok 5 2-3 14, Jaeda Whitner 5 2-4 12, Tianna Powell 3 0-0 6, Rachel Breck 2 0-0 4, Kariana Lohf 1 0-0 2, Hailey Miranda 1 0-0 2. 3-point goals — 5 (Puok 3, Hough 2). Team fouls — 15. Fouled out — None.