Lauren Tsuneishi

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Westmont Women’s Basketball (13-1), the second-seeded team in the NAIA National Championship, advanced to the semifinals with a 90-68 win over #7 Clarke of Iowa (23-3) in a quarterfinal match-up on Saturday.

The Warrior guards scored 76 points in the game, including three 20-plus performances by Iyree Jarrett, Stefanie Berberabe and Lauren Tsuneishi.

“Obviously, our guards were phenomenal tonight in every way,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “I have been telling this team, which is still young in its national tournament experience, that the teams I have coached that have made runs to the semifinals or championship game are teams in which everyone knows their role and does it to their absolute best. Whether their role is to play one minute in the game or 40 minutes in the game, whether it is to be a rebounder, or a screener or a shooter or a penetrator or creator, everyone plays their role. I am proud of this team, because everyone did their role today.

“Our guards are unbelievable scorers and it is their role to score, create scoring opportunities for other people and knock down open shots when they have them. They did that at a ridiculously high level today.”

As a team, the Warriors made 12 of 25 attempts from beyond the arc, including a six-of-14 performance by Tsuneishi, who scored 22 points.

Moore was impressed with “Lauren’s leadership and her ability to stretch the defense and shoot with confidence today.”

Jarrett led all scorers with 25 points while also tallying seven assists, six rebounds and three steals.

“Iyree’s playmaking ability is on a whole different level,” noted Moore.

Berberabe contributed 23 points to the Warrior cause along with five assists, five rebounds and two steals.

“Stef has an ability to create things out of nothing,” asserted Moore. “She is a magician out there. Not only does she have extraordinary quickness, her heart is even more phenomenal to me. I am amazed at how hard she plays and how much she wants to do it for her teammates and other people.”

“It is phenomenal to watch,” said Moore of her guards’ play. “I am their coach and I see it every day, but it still blows me away at how good they are. It is a joy to coach them.”

The Warriors struggled in the first quarter and found themselves in an eight-point deficit (24-16) with one minute to play in the opening frame.

“Clarke is a really good basketball team,” said Moore. “They are incredibly physical, they outsize us at every position and they are beasts on the board. They average twice as many offensive rebounds as their opponents for the season. We struggled with that physicality early on and then started to adjust.”

A jumper from the elbow by Tsuneishi with 45 seconds remaining made the score 24-18 before a free throw by Berberabe made it a 24-19.

Skylar Colbertson produced an offensive rebound and put-back for the Pride to restore a seven-point advantage to Clarke with less than three seconds to play.

Berberabe then dribbled up the court and launched a shot from a step or two short of the half-court line. The ball swished through the net to pull the Warriors to within four at 26-22 as the final first-quarter buzzer sounded.

“We had a couple of stop-scores and we were starting to get a little bit of momentum,” said Moore of the end of the first quarter. “Then Stefanie hit that three. I love the leadership of Lauren Tsuneishi, who is the one player on this team that has already played in a national championship game. When Stef hit that shot and the players were running over, she was saying, ‘Don’t get too high. Don’t get top low.’ She was telling them to let it spur us forward, but to stay focused.

“The slow start was similar to our last game when we let that effect our defense and our mentality. Veteran teams should rely on their defense for their consistency regardless of what is happening on the offensive end.

“That was the shift we made today. While things weren’t going well offensively, we didn’t let it affect our focus on the defensive end. We found a way to get the stops and rebounds, knowing our offense would take care of itself as we were able to push off of our rebounds and stops.”

A jumper by the Pride’s Tina Ubl was the first score of the second quarter, but Westmont responded with a 10-0 run to take a 32-28 advantage. A three by Tsuneishi was followed by the same from Berberabe. Then Gabriella Stoll knocked down a jumper in the paint and Berberabe scored on a fast break.

The battle remained close the rest of the quarter, but Westmont held Clarke scoreless for the last minute and a half and took a 46-39 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Westmont pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Clarke 26-11, resulting in a 72-50 lead headed into the final frame. The teams played even basketball in the fourth, resulting in a 22-point victory for the Warriors.

Sydney Brown accumulated nine points and seven rebounds for the Warriors while going four of eight from the field. Krissy Miyahara went two of three from beyond the arc for six points.

In the semifinals, Westmont was scheduled to take on the winner between #3 Campbellsville of Kentucky (20-2) and #11 Indiana Wesleyan (24-6) on Monday.

“We played Campbellsville last year but it seems like a century ago,” said Moore of a game played on Nov. 30, 2019. “We were a whole different team then. Syd had just gotten hurt and Maud Ranger had just moved to the four. We were young and didn’t have a lot of experience. Yet, we still battled them to a one-possession game that we lost. Our team would love the opportunity to play them again.”

The only other time the two teams have met was in November of 2016 – a game in which the Warriors prevailed 59-50.

Westmont and Indiana Wesleyan have never played and the two teams did not have any common opponents this season.

“Indiana Wesleyan shot the ball well in their first game here in Iowa and they have some tough, physical players inside,” reported Moore.

“Whoever we play, we will scout it and get as ready as we can,” promised Moore. “If we take the attacking, focused mentality that we had today, we can be as good as anyone in the country.”

— Westmont Athletics

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