(Photo of WIU's Michelle Farrow by Dave Eggen/Inertia)
The top seeded Western Illinois Women's Basketball team took down number five Omaha 84-82 Monday afternoon to advance to the Summit League Tournament Finals. Western moves on to its first Summit League Championship Game since 2006, and have the chance to win the league for the first time since 1995.
In the win, Leathernecks junior point guard Emily Clemens recorded a triple-double of 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. This marks the first triple-double of Clemens' career, and the first for any Summit League player since 2015. Teammate Morgan Blumer dropped a team high 22 points (6-9 3FG), and hit a pair of late game 3's to give Western a four point lead with under two minutes to play.
Western came out hot, gaining a 7-0 lead in the opening two minutes. From there Omaha regrouped and neither team really gained momentum for the first quarter and change. Western led 28-27 with 7:11 left in the first half, but would not retake that lead until the aforementioned pair of Blumer late game treys.
From there Omaha closed the quarter on a 17-11 run to lead 47-39 at the half. The Mavericks read the Leathernecks matchup zone extremely well, working the ball down low to their scorers and hitting outside shots. Omaha shot 58% in the first half to Western's 35%. The three point discrepency went 50% for Omaha to 25% for WIU, which is unfamiliar territory for a Western Illinois team that is known to shoot teams out of the gym.
(WIU's Emily Clemens. Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)
Omaha's Mikaela Shaw scored 17 first half points and continuously found ways to knife through the Leatherneck zone. Head Coach JD Gravina mentioned postgame how the team tried mixing things up on Shaw by double teaming her at certain points, but nothing seemed to slow her down. Shaw finished the game with 29 points, tying an individual season high for her and setting a new mark for the most individual points for an opposing player versus Western this season. Fellow Mavericks big Michaela Dapprich was also impressive down low, dropping 24 points.
Early in the third quarter Omaha built its lead up to as much as nine. Despite continued shooting struggles Western traded blows after that, and ultimately climbed back into it to tie the score at 59. Shaw hit a three pointer with 6 seconds left in the quarter to give the lead back to Omaha.
A major reason for Western sticking around was it's 5'4 point guard. Clemens did what she's done all season long, find a way to impact games. She always seems to fill up the box score in such a deceptive way. She's pretty much a lock to finish somewhere in the high teens or low to mid twenties in scoring, regardless of how well she's shooting the ball. She took a clear grasp of the game in the third and into the fourth, shooting 4-9 from the field in the second half, in which she scored 12 of her 21.
In the fourth quarter WIU's potent shooting was on full display for the largely South Dakota State affiliated contingent on hand at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. Western shot 69% from the field in the fourth, including 6-9 on triples. Blumer hit those two late threes, but Michelle Farrow also hit some timely shots, nailing two three's with under five minutes to play. Omaha still kept pace though, with the game coming down to the final possession.
WIU's Taylor Higginbotham missed a pair of free throws, putting the ball in the hands of the Mavericks with the score 84-82 Western. The Leathernecks got the stop playing sufficating defense on Shaw, forcing the ball into the hands of guard Amber Vidal, who had only taken one shot that game. She got flusterd and ultimately the Mavs did not get a clean look up, with WIU surviving the near 1-5 upset.
Western moves on to play IUPUI tomorrow at 1 PM in the Summit League Championship Game. Western Illinois is 0-2 vs the Jaguars this season. The IUPUI 76-72 victory at Western Hall on 1/25 was the last time the Leathernecks have lost a game, going 10-0 since then.
Leathernecks Head Coach JD Gravina and players Emily Clemens and Morgan Blumer:
Omaha Head Coach Brittany Lange and players Mikaela Shaw and Michaela Dappich