MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois women's basketball (2-4 overall) got back on track on Tuesday night (Nov. 27) posting a 69-55 decisive win over Valparaiso (2-4 overall) at Western Hall. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Fighting Leathernecks.
Saule Kontautaite sparked the Leatherneck offense leading the squad with a season-high 23 points, eight of which came from the charity stripe.
The contest remained tight for the first five minutes of action before the Leathernecks used a 3-pointer from Kontautaite to take the lead. Western maintained its advantage for the remainder of the first half, leading by as many as 10 points, and entered the break on top 34-28.
The Crusaders began to chip away at the deficit in the second half and took a three point lead (44-41) after going on a 16-4 run early in the second half.
After five lead changes, Western regained control with an 8-0 run sparked by baskets from Jackie Rieger and Rachel Evans, two free throws from Michelle Maher and a lay-in by Ashley Luke at the 10:34 mark.
Valparaiso drained a 3-pointer to cut Western's lead to 62-55, but during the final minute Maher hit two free throws, Kontautaite made four and Luke added another for the final margin and seal the victory.
Western made a season high 24 free throws on 28 attempts in the contest, which nearly matched the total made in the last four games combined (26). Despite shooting just 36 percent from the field, Western defense held the Crusaders to 29.2 percent overall and just 3-of-16 shooting from long range.
"This was probably the first time in my two year tenure that I thought we really grinded out a game defensively when we didn't play well offensively," said head coach JD Gravina. "We wanted to push the tempo from the beginning... We still need to build on what we've been working on which is our intensity in practice and obviously rebounding."
Maher joined Kontautaite in double-figures scoring 14 points. They combined to go 14-for-14 at the free throw line.
Luke pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, one off of her career-high, and she tied her career high in points with seven. Western's nine blocked shots also matched a season-high. Kontautaite, who had only six career blocks, led everyone with three blocks. Luke, Maher and Michele Salvatori added two each.
Gina Lange led Valpo with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Fighting Leathernecks are back in action at home on
Waste Management Court this Saturday (Dec. 1) at 4:30 p.m. against William