Imai Earns 19 Points, but Hot-Shooting Linfield Defeats Bearcats, 78-71

Kaitlin Imai takes the ball around a defender.
Kaitlin Imai (So., G, Santa Cruz, CA/Scotts Valley HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communication

McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Kaitlin Imai (So., G, Santa Cruz, CA/Scotts Valley HS) of Willamette University scored 19 points, including a trio of 3-points baskets, but Linfield University defeated the Bearcats, 78-71, in a Northwest Conference game on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Ted Wilson Gymnasium.

Willamette fell to 13-8 on the season, and remained in first place in the NWC with a 10-2 conference mark. Linfield moved to 11-10 overall, including 6-6 in the NWC. 

The Wildcats shot 61.4% from the field (27 of 44), 50.0% from 3-point range (7 of 14), and 85.0% at the free throw line (17 of 20). On most other nights, Willamette's stats would have won the game, as the Bearcats hit 45.2% of their field goals (28 of 62), while making 6 of 19 three-point shots (31.6%) and 9 of 11 free throws (81.8%). WU committed just six turnovers while forcing Linfield into 14 turnovers.

Ava Kitchin (Sr., P, Redmond, OR/Redmond HS) supplied Willamette with 13 points and five rebounds. Elyse Waldal (Jr., F, Snohomish, WA/Glacier Peak HS/Linfield University) tallied 12 points and six boards, while Megan River (Sr., G, Tumwater, WA/A.G. West Black Hills HS) scored 10 points to go with three steals. Imai and Peyton Gardner (So., G, Bend, OR/Bend HS) each recorded four assists. Carolyn Ho (Sr., G, Parker, CO/Ponderosa HS) matched Riverwith three steals.

Gillyan Landis led the Wildcats with 21 points by hitting 5 of 8 field goals and 11 of 11 free throws. She also produced six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Miki Vermeulen finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Eva Burke and Amelia Solt both tallied 11 points, while Janessa Yniguez earned 10 points and three steals.

Willamette built a 6-0 lead on baskets by River, Waldal, and Ho. Linfield took a 9-8 lead with 3:55 left in the first quarter on a layup by Landis. Two free throws by Imai and a layup from Kitchin provided WU with a 12-9 edge. Linfield eventually tied the score at 12-12, but Imai tacked on two more free throws with 18 seconds on the clock to return the lead to the Bearcats.

In the second quarter, WU outscored Linfield 22-19. The teams played through two ties and six lead changes in the quarter, with the Wildcats leading by one point three times and the Bearcats leading by as many as five points on several occasions.

Willamette held a 26-21 advantage following a 3-pointer by Waldal at the 5:36 mark. Later, the Bearcats led 34-29 on a 3-pointer by Imai with 2:47 to go. WU owned a 36-31 lead at halftime, after Danielle Morgan (Sr., F, Lompoc, CA/Lompoc HS/California Lutheran Univ.) scored on a layup with 38 seconds left. Imai scored 12 points and hit 6 of 6 free throws during the first two quarters.

Linfield opened the second half with a 12-0 run for a 42-36 lead after Landis sank two free throws with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter. With 57 seconds on the clock, Kaylee Schow made a layup to give the Wildcats a 57-44 margin, before River tallied the final basket of the period with 13 seconds left. The Wildcats outscored the Bearcats 26-10 during the quarter.

Layups by Kitchin and Waldal pulled WU within 57-50 with 9:25 to play. Linfield countered with a 10-3 run, starting with a 3-pointer by Solt for a 67-53 lead with 6:41 left. Willamette rallied to within three points at 67-64 on a 3-pointer by Imai at the 1:58 mark. WU cut the margin to three points two more times with 1:18 and 46 seconds remaining on jumpers from Kitchin and Imai, respectively, but Linfield kept the lead.

The Bearcats will return to action in just three days when they host Pacific University at Cone Field House on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Pacific, 9-3 in the NWC, is tied for second place in the conference with the University of Puget Sound. Game time for the NWC battle between the Bearcats and the Boxers is set for 6 p.m. PST.