KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ashley Luke posted game-highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds, her fourth double-double of the season, leading Western Illinois to a 63-38 Summit League win at Kansas City. The win on Friday afternoon (Feb. 22) improved Western to 12-14 overall and 5-8 in the league.
The game, postponed a day due to heavy snow in the Kansas City area, saw Western come out flat. Luke started the scoring for Western with a basket in the first minute. Eilise O'Connor scored two straight baskets, the latter at the 16:27 mark for a 4-2 lead as the Leathernecks went three minutes scoreless.
On the following possession, Luke sank two free throws that began a 14-0 run covering the next five minutes and Western never looked back. Jackie Rieger and Saule Kontautaite each hit a 3-pointer and Michelle Maher sank two from beyond the arc to key the run.
Luke added a 3-point play (part of her 10 first half points) followed by another '3' from Paige Harmon as Western eventually led by as many as 21 when Rebecca Henricson hit from 3-point range in the final minutes of the half.
The defense helped force 13 first half turnovers, which Western was able to turn into 20 points. The offense warmed up, shooting 36.7 percent overall from the field and was helped by a 6-of-11 effort beyond the arc.
Both teams came up empty on their first four possessions of the second half. Rieger started the scoring for Western but the Kangaroos (9-18, 5-9) eventually made a run.
Kontautaite hit another 3-pointer to extend the lead 37-19 at the 16:09 mark. O'Connor scored six of the 'Roos next eight points, and a lay-in by Jordan Evans made it 40-29 with just over 10 minutes remaining. Western wasted no time in responding.
Luke converted a 3-point play then Kontautaite followed by sinking another from beyond the arc on the next possession to pull away for good. The 25-point margin of victory in a road conference game was the largest for Western since a 30-point win at Centenary on January 21, 2008.
"I was really proud of our team. What a disaster having to come and stay in a hotel for two days and literally not leave the hotel... I was pretty nervous, we came out flat. (However) Like I've said all along we've improved our half-court defense, our defensive rebounding and if our offense could get going I thought we would be dangerous. That's what happened today," said head coach JD Gravina.
Western shot 35.6 percent from the field, including an 8-of-23 effort beyond the arc, while holding KC to 29.8 percent. Western also held an edge in rebounds (37/36) and turnovers (11/21).
Luke's fourth double-double this year, and second versus Kansas City, leads the team. It marked the first time this year she scored 20 points, hitting 6-of-12 field goals and season-high 8-of-9 free throws.
Kontautaite added 11 points and Rieger chipped in nine. Henricson tallied five points, six assists (as many as the 'Roos had as a team), four steals and only one turnover in 34 minutes. Defensively she helped keep O'Connor to just 5-of-22 shooting from the field.
"We did a phenomenal job on (Eilise) O'Connor, she's 5-of-22 from the field and that was a team effort," stated Gravina. "I will say Becca Henricson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Ashley had a tremendous game, 20 points and 11 rebounds, we couldn't ask more of her."
The Leathernecks have a quick turnaround, traveling to South Dakota and facing the Coyotes on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 23) at 2 p.m. It marks the final regular season road game for Western.