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'Cats roll to opening round victory

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Hot-shooting Indiana Wesleyan University made it look easy Thursday evening in the opening round of the women’s basketball NAIA Division II National Championships.

With Margot Woughter supplying the 3-pointers and Nicole Ignasiak dominating inside, the Wildcats made quick work of once-beaten Bryan College (Tennessee) 84-64 and advanced to the Round of 16. The Wildcats have won opening-round games three-straight years and the fourth time in their last five appearances.

“We came out ready to play,” Ignasiak said. “We knew it was going to be a really tough game and we knew how good they were and how good a 3-point shooting team they were and we were really locked in and ready to go. I give a lot of credit to our defense and it carried over to our offense.”

Fifth-seeded IWU (21-12) plays top-seeded Northwestern (Iowa) at 8 p.m. today in the Tyson Events Center, Sioux City, Iowa. Northwestern, located about one-half hour from the arena, advanced with a 93-80 victory over Olivet Nazarene (Illinois).

Bryan, which finished 31-2, had won 30 straight games and was a fourth seed. But, after the Lions scored the initial basket, the Wildcats ran off 14 unanswered points and were only briefly challenged thereafter.

“It was one of those things where we came out with a little bit of adrenaline and defensively, we set the tone for the rest of the game in that first three-minute stretch,” IWU coach Ethan Whaley said. “Our defense was disruptive and we bumped them off their spots and made it hard to run their offense.”

The Lions would close to within four points late in the first quarter before the ‘Cats pulled away again to a 24-15 lead at the break and whittled it down to four again early in the second. But the ‘Cats closed out the half on another big run and went ahead 18 points (46-28) on Woughter’s fifth 3-pointer just before halftime.

IWU would extend its lead to as high as 26 points in the second half.

Woughter finished with seven 3-pointers that was two short of Margaret Edwards’ single game school record. The freshman point guard finished with 26 points that was one off her personal best on 9-of-15 shooting overall.

“Before the game I had prayed with teammates and that gave me confidence to go out and play fearless,” Woughter said. “And our whole team had that mentality. It was so much fun.

“It was a testament to coaching staff who watched the film and had us prepared ready,” she added. “Our team was locked in and every single person did their job. Bryan is a great team, but we were really prepared.”

Ignasiak, a 6-foot-1 post, was double- and triple-teamed early but still managed 17 points on 8-of-9 field goal shooting and did the bulk of her scoring in the first half with 13 points.

“After I had four or six points they were all over me and I made an adjustment to see where the double team was and to go the opposite way,” Ignasiak said. “The team did a good job diving down to the other block and I could kick it out to them.”

IWU finished at 53 percent from the floor (33-of-62) and 42 percent from 3-point range (11-of-26). A healthy 34-12 advantage on points in the paint contributed to the ‘Cats’ hot shooting.

Dayton Groninger gave the ‘Cats a third double-digit scorer with 10 points. Eight of the nine players used scored with Jene’e Goodwin contributing nine, Carly Lange seven and Katie Key, Elaina Ededuwa and Stephanie Conrad with five apiece.

Whaley said Northwestern, a team IWU has never beaten in the national tournament, will present a major challenge.

“They are so good and have the No. 1-rated (NAIA DII ) offense in the country,” Whaley said. “They’ve got weapons at every position and are bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled than anybody they play.

“They don’t turn it over and take great shots every time down the floor, which makes them so dangerous,” he added. “We’ve got our hands full, but we’ve got to continue to guard and be disruptive on the defensive end.”