Courtesy of Western Illinois University Athletics
MACOMB, Ill. – As Western Illinois women’s basketball guard Elizabeth Lutz acknowledged last week, “everyone is 0-0” once league play begins. Finishing a competitive Monday night (Dec. 20) on its home floor, the Leathernecks (10-2, 1-1) took another step in the right direction by grabbing its first Summit League test: a 72-66 win over Denver (5-7, 0-1).
Western’s 10-2 overall start is the best since 2017-18 when the program started at the same clip through 12 games.
A free throw made from Evan Zars tied the score at 8-8 less than four minutes in the first quarter, as both teams continued to go at it with quick offensive possessions. Trailing by a bit, WIU soon cleaned up its play to make it an even game again, as Mallory McDermott swished a three-pointer from the left wing in transition. A minute and a half later, Jada Thorpe completed a tough basket in the paint, assisted by Alissa Dins, before the period ended. Zars enjoyed a stellar first seven minutes with nine points.
Danni Nichols began to take over in the second frame, getting to the rim to put WIU up again, 27-26. Behind the senior guard’s leadership, WIU remained in front by a slight stretch, and McDermott answered from deep once again to extend the margin, 37-31. Denver made another outside shot before the first half concluded, down 37-34.
The third quarter was a unique story, starting with a 7-0 run by the Leathernecks. However after regrouping in a timeout, Denver erupted on a 10-1 push, clipping Western’s lead to only one point. WIU did well in keeping its composure to find additional momentum, fueled by several different players pouring in baskets. The team play led to another comfortable advantage, 59-44, with Nichols scoring in the paint before the buzzer sounded.
Wester continued its balanced showing into the final period, surging ahead 63-44 on another finish from Nichols. The Pioneers again tried to make some noise as the clock counted down, staying close by in the final few minutes (66-62). Thorpe impressively put things away on a step-back triple, and Western stayed alive to finish victorious for its tenth win of the winter.
Nichols notched her first season double-double and the third of her career – 19 points and ten rebounds. Zars produced 13 points and eight rebounds, while Thorpe chipped in 15 points, three assists, and three steals. McDermott went a perfect 3-3 from three-point distance off the bench to contribute 11 points.
Western is right back on its home floor Wednesday evening (Dec. 22) at 6 p.m. CT for a second league test – the Omaha Mavericks.