MACOMB, Ill. - The Western Illinois women's basketball team shattered its 3-point shooting record, and senior Saule Kontautaite tied her own season record from 3-point range, as the Leathernecks defeated Oakland 64-53 on Saturday afternoon (March 2). Western closes out the regular season 14-15 overall and 7-9 in the Summit League.
Attendance inside Western Hall was announced at 1,156, which ranks as the second-highest total in program history. The fans helped honor the team's five seniors: Christina Jones, Karis Phillips, Michele Salvatori, Kontautaite and Jackie Rieger.
Needing just one to tie the 3-point field goal record from last year, Jones - making the first start of her four year career - tied the record three minutes into the contest.
Western drained nine 3s (now 223 this season) to complete the season sweep of Oakland (9-19, 3-13). Kontautaite tied her own record of 67 last year, hitting four in the contest for a game-high 20 points. It marked her sixth 20-point game this year and eighth in her two-year career.
"It was a good win for us. First of all, they're a tough team. They're young... you look and their wins are against the second and third-best teams in the conference in IUPUI and South Dakota, so we knew they were dangerous," said head coach JD Gravina. "I'm really proud of the seniors. Their legacy has been working through adversity and overcoming it. I thought that's been true throughout their careers - for them this season, and for almost every single one of them personally."
Rebecca Henricson put the squad up 17-9 following her 3-pointer, but Oakland eventually battled back and used an 8-1 run to close out the half as Western took a 28-26 lead into the locker room.
Every time Western surged ahead, the Golden Grizzlies battled back. Michelle Maher hit a lay-in to extend the lead back to 45-42. Kontautaite hit a 3-pointer at the 5:50 mark, leading 55-49, but OU scored four straight points. The last by Elena Popkey with 4:52 remaining, but the Leatherneck defense kept Oakland off the scoreboard from that point on.
Kontautaite hit another jumper then followed that with the record-tying 3-pointer extending the lead back to 60-53 with just over two minutes remaining. Ashley Luke scored in the paint, then Henricson knocked down two free throws for the final margin.
One of the conference leaders in field goal shooting, Luke fought through a 4-for-13 FG effort to score 11 points and match her season-high of 13 rebounds. The Summit League leader in offensive rebounds per game at 2.9, Luke cleared away 10 boards on the offensive end. She added two blocks and three steals while recording her sixth double-double this season.
Salvatori matched a season-high (also set at Oakland) with 10 rebounds while matching her career-high of five assists.
Western shot 35.8 percent from the field and was 7-of-10 at the free throw line. The Leathernecks also held a 49-30 edge in rebounds.
Olivia Nash led Oakland with 15 points.
The win secured the number five seed for Western at the Summit League Tournament, and will face Fort Wayne on Sunday (March 10) at 12 noon. Western has advanced to the semifinals in two of the last three years, and enters the postseason having won four of its last six games - including a 19-point win over Fort Wayne two days ago. Gravina thinks his team is playing with the right amount of confidence.
"I think we're at a good level [of confidence]. We're not overly confident, but our confidence is back to where it was when we were playing well in the middle of the season," stated the second year head coach. "We recovered from the five-game losing streak. We've improved defensively, and our offense is starting to get back to the point where it's clicking. I think if we continue to get good shots, we'll be a dangerous team in the tournament."