Coming into Saturday’s NAIA Game of the Week, both No. 10 Briar Cliff and No.11 Hastings were in a five-way tie along with Mount Marty, Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan for second-place in the GPAC standings. Briar Cliff seized their opportunity to take a step closer to conference-leader Morningside, defeating Hastings 82-70.
Hastings College Women’s Basketball Head Coach Jina Johansen stressed the significance of this game to her team throughout the week.
“We stressed it. They knew the situation that we’re in and we basically told them now that we have to win the last two to have a chance to make it to the national tournament, unless we win the conference tournament,” Johansen said. “So it was disappointing in that regard, because we knew what was on the line and we just didn’t perform well.”
Briar Cliff jumped out to an early 4-0 lead thanks to baskets from junior Kaylee Blake and senior Jessi Corrick, who finished with a game-high 24 points on 7 of 14 shooting from the field. Hastings senior Teeka Thompson, who finished with four points and eight assists in the first half, got the Broncos on the board to start the game and later in the quarter, nabbed a steal and converted a layup to cut the Charger lead to five.
Hastings senior Chelsea Morton and sophomore Holly Hild connected on back-to-back three pointers to put the Broncos up 11-10 midway through the quarter. The Chargers made a couple of free throws and Briar Cliff lead 14-13 after the first quarter.
Briar Cliff changed their style of play drastically this game, which caused plenty of confusion and disarray on the defensive end for the Broncos.
“They came out and did two major, different things offensively that we have not seen on film and I thought it really took us out of our defensive rhythm,” Johansen said. “Them coming out and running something different threw us off our game.”
Those two changes came in the form of offensive styles. Briar Cliff, who traditionally runs the triangle offense, instead decided to spread out the Broncos defense, which put the Broncos in a lot of one-on-one situations defensively.
Turnovers plagued both teams in the second quarter and the play suffered because of it. After Morton connected on a three-pointer to put the Broncos up by two, both teams committed two straight turnovers, then two possessions later, traded turnovers again. Hastings junior Alex Edwards came off the bench and added a much-needed spark, scoring six points on two three-pointers.
Briar Cliff’s Morgan Hansen connected on a jumper to put Briar Cliff up five late in the second quarter. The next possession, Lexi Henschke got a basket at the buzzer to put Briar Cliff up 36-29 at halftime.
The third quarter was the turning point in the ball game and was where Briar Cliff started to seize the momentum.
“The initial storm we let it past and then we got back into it. Then they went on a run (in the third quarter) and we never recovered with it,” Johansen said. “Some of it we turned it over, some they got some in transition, and they got a few offensive rebounds. Stuff we’re normally good with we weren’t good with it today.”
Briar Cliff stretched their lead to 11 just three minutes into the third quarter, forcing a Hastings timeout. After the timeout, sophomore Holly Hild, who led the Broncos with 18 points, connected on a three-pointer. Later in the quarter, Briar Cliff freshman Taylor Vasa, who finished with 13 points, finished a layup and the free throw to put the Chargers up 14 midway through the third.
Corrick finished a layup and the free throw to put the Chargers up 15 with just over a minute to go in the quarter. Briar Cliff took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Hastings senior Abby Jackson gave the Broncos a bit of hope after a sequence where she made a jumper from the free-throw line and the very next possession, knocked down a three to cut the lead to 10.
Corrick answered with a basket and a three-point play at the 3:55 mark to put Briar Cliff back up 11. Both teams traded free throws, before Corrick hit three free throws down the stretch to ice the game for the Chargers.
The loss puts Hastings in an ultimatum-type situation: Win the remaining two regular-season games to have a shot at an out-right birth in the national championship field, win the GPAC conference tournament to get a birth to the national championship field or end their season.
“The last two we pretty much have to win,” Johansen said. “We can only control the next two games and whether we play well or not.”