River Scores 16 Points as First Place Willamette Downs Pacific Lutheran, 72-70

Megan River sets up to take an outside shot for the Bearcats.
Megan River (Sr., G, Tumwater, WA/A.G. West Black Hills HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- Senior guard Megan River (Tumwater, WA/A.G. West Black Hills HS) scored 16 points and three other Bearcats scored in double figures, as Willamette University defeated Pacific Lutheran University, 72-70, in a Northwest Conference women's basketball game on Friday, Feb. 2. The Bearcats trailed 70-66 with 2:01 left, but scored the final six points of the game. 

Willamette improved to 13-7 on the season and to 10-1 in the NWC with its sixth consecutive win. The Lutes from PLU slipped to 10-10 on the season. 2-9 in the NWC. Willamette will play at Linfield University on Saturday, Feb. 3. Game time in McMinnville, Oregon, is set for 4 p.m. PST.

Ashley Akamine sank two free throws for PLU to create the Lutes' four-point advantage. Kaitlin Imai (So., G, Santa Cruz, CA/Scotts Valley HS) of WU was fouled with 1:55 remaining and made both free throws to pull the Bearcats within 70-68. Imai added a steal with 1:27 to go, and River was fouled six seconds later. River hit both free throw attempts to tie the game.

On PLU's next possession, River stole the ball from Akamine at the 1:11 mark. Willamette kept the ball until River scored on a jump shot in the lane to give the Bearcats a 72-70 lead. Ava Kitchin (Sr., P, Redmond, OR/Redmond HS) assisted on the go-ahead basket. Strong defense forced the Lutes into a shot clock violation with 16 seconds left. Imai was fouled with 10 seconds left and missed both free throws. Ava Edmonds of PLU missed a 3-pointer that was contested by Kitchin at the buzzer.

River reached 16 points by sinking 6 of 11 field goals, including one 3-pointer, and by converting 3 of 4 free throws. She also provided the Bearcats with three assists, and three steals. River was followed on the Willamette scoring list by Elyse Waldal (Jr., F, Snohomish, WA/Glacier Peak HS/Linfield University) with 12 points, and by Imai and Peyton Gardner (So., G, Bend, OR/Bend HS) with 10 points each. Kitchin tacked on nine points.

Waldal and Kitchin each grabbed seven rebounds as the Bearcats claimed a 32-30 rebounding lead. Kitchin added a team-high four assists, plus one steal and one blocked shot. Carolyn Ho (Sr., G, Parker, CO/Ponderosa HS) supplied WU with six points, and six boards. Ashley Collins (Sr., P, Chino Hills, CA/Chino Hills HS) also hauled down six rebounds.

Leading the Lutes was Akamine with 19 points, including three 3-point baskets. Akamine was 6 of 8 at the free throw line. Kasidy Javernick tacked on 14 points, while Sydney Reisner scored 12 points. Reisner earned four assists and Brandie Tobin recorded a game-high five steals. Edmonds added four steals and was one of five PLU players with four rebounds.

WU took a 7-2 lead just over a minute into the game following a 3-pointer by River, but the Lutes tied the score at 7-7 on a 3-pointer by Raylie Wardenaar. Willamette later trailed 14-11 after Akamine sank a long-range shot with 3:39 left in the first quarter. The Bearcats scored the next six points for a 17-14 margin at the 2:06 mark. Kitchin put through a layup with 1:45 to go, increasing the lead to 19-14. WU led 23-19 entering the second quarter.

The Lutes moved into a 28-28 tie on a layup by Reisner with 7:44 left in the half. PLU added a 12-6 surge for a 40-34 lead on a 3-pointer by Javernick with 4:19 to go. A 3-pointer by Emma Floyd (So., F, Camano Island, WA/Stanwood HS) opened a 14-0 run by the Bearcats. Waldal's 3-pointer with 12 seconds to play ended the surge, as WU led 48-40 at the break.

Imai hit a 3-pointer on Willamette's second possession of the third quarter for an 11-point lead at 51-40. A bit later the Lutes finished a 10-4 run with a free throw by Javernick to pull within 55-50 at the 3:39 mark. WU tallied the next seven points, ending with a layup by Waldal with 1:27 left to create a 62-50 margin. Javernick sank a 3-pointer for PLU with just over a minute remaining to cut the Lutes' deficit to 62-53.

A 12-2 surge by Pacific Lutheran to start the fourth quarter reduced WU's lead to 65-64 with 4:02 left. The Lutes went on to grab a 68-66 lead on two free throw shots by Akamine with 2:48 to go. PLU's advantage moved to 70-66 when Akamine hit two additional charity shots at the 2:01 mark. The Bearcats followed with their game-winning 6-0 run.

The Bearcats shot 55.8% (29 of 52) for the game and made 6 of 13 three-pointers (46.2%). Meanwhile, PLU shot 40.4% (23 of 57) and connected on 12 of 30 three-pointers (40.0%).

With the win, Willamette took sole possession of first place in the NWC standings at 10-1. Pacific University fell to 9-2 and into second place after falling to George Fox University, 56-50, on Friday in Forest Grove, Oregon.