SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University women's basketball team got things rolling in the second half as the Pirates opened the season with a 72-56 victory over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in the Whit Classic on Friday evening.
"We really struggled early," Whitworth head coach Helen Higgs said. "We had several players who were having to fill new roles in our first game of the season."
Whitworth (1-0) got off to a slow start in the first half as Pomona-Pitzer (0-1) jumped out to a 4-0 led on straight points from Jenn Okonkwo. Junior Jessica Kramer gave Whitworth its first lead, 7-6, with a jumper at the 14:10 mark, but the Sagehens kept fighting. The teams traded leads throughout the first half, with an Alaina Woo layup giving Pomona-Pitzer its largest lead of the night, 15-10. Whitworth was able to take a 29-28 lead on a layup from senior Jamie Lyons with 1:40 left in the first half, but defensive breakdowns left McKenna VanderKley open under the basket in the waning seconds to give Pomona-Pitzer a 30-29 lead going into the break.
The Pirates began to warm up in the second-half as sophomore KC McConnell hit a three-pointer to put Whitworth in front 37-35 before the Sagehens used a 6-0 run to lead 44-41. Sophomore Lexie Zappone sparked the Pirates on three consecutive possessions, hitting a three to tie the score 44-44, finding sophomore Alexis McLeod for a jumper and then making a pass through the defense to hit Jessica Kramer for a fastbreak layup. Junior Katara Belton-Sharp kept the Pirates rolling, making a layup after stealing the ball on the defensive end. All-in-all, the Pirates made a 10-2 run to swing the momentum of the second half and Zappone sank a pair of free throws to give Whitworth the 72-56 opening win.
"We had to find our flow in the first half. Once we found our groove, we were clicking on both ends of the floor," Higgs said.
The Pirates forced 21 Sagehen turnovers, including two backcourt violations. Whitworth had 37 rebounds, 14 of which came on the offensive glass.
KC McConnell led the team with her first double-double of the season, 21 points and 10 rebounds. Katara Belton-Sharp added 12 points for the Pirates, while Jessica Kramer had eight rebounds, including three offensive boards. Lexie Zappone dished out a game-high nine assists and had three steals.
Jenn Okonkwo led the Sagehens with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Basha Brulee-Wills joined Okonkwo with a double-double, 10 points and 10 boards, while Amelia Hummel chipped in 11 points for Pomona-Pitzer.
Whitworth will face fifth-ranked St. Thomas in the Whit Classic nightcap on Saturday. The Pirates and the Tommies, who are coming off a 77-76 loss to 11th-ranked Whitman, will play a 6:00 p.m., following the Whitman-Pomona-Pitzer matchup at 4:00 p.m.