Central women knock off Luther

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PELLA—Roaring back from a 13-point second-quarter deficit, the Central College women’s basketball team knocked off Luther College for the first time since 2014, 58-56 Wednesday night.
The upset strengthens Central’s hold on sixth place in the American Rivers and the league’s final tournament berth with two games remaining. The Dutch (13-10 overall, 5-9 conference) snapped a 10-game losing streak against Luther and now have a two-game lead on the seventh-place University of Dubuque (3-10). It’s the highest conference win total since 2006 for Central, which hasn’t reached the league tourney since 2005.
Senior forward Kendall Brown (Moravia) had 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. She has a league-high 66 blocks for the year, seven shy of her own school record, and is shooting 62.2% from the field.
Defense was the difference down the stretch as Luther (12-9 overall, 10-4 conference), which overwhelmed the Dutch 79-41 at Decorah Jan. 8, missed 13 straight fourth-quarter shots and 14 of its final 15. Central used an 11-0 run that turned a 52-47 deficit with 7 minutes remaining to a 58-52 advantage and then hung on after missing four free throws in the final 30 seconds. A Luther baseline jumper with 2 seconds left sailed long.
“All night long we just did a great job of sticking to the plan, protecting the paint and trying to force as many jump shots as we could,” Steinkamp said. “I was really proud that when they did make a couple perimeter shots we didn’t get out of our plan, we didn’t start chasing people or overreact to one or two plays. We just stuck with it.
“It was nice that they missed a bunch of shots there at the end but I do think our defense was a big reason why.”
The Dutch trailed 32-19 with just 1:56 left in the first half but sliced that to 32-26 at the break.
“I think that was a really key stretch to the game,” Steinkamp said. “Kelsea Hurley (freshman, Scottsdale, Ariz., Desert Mountain HS) hit a couple of threes and it just kind of slowed their run and made it a manageable game.”
Guard Carson Fisk (freshman, Searsboro, Lynnville-Sully HS) had 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“I think she just really attacked the rim,” Steinkamp said. “Her speed allowed her to get in the paint. She was all over the court, she was awesome in transition, she got defensive rebounds and then she guards.”
Central also got its usual boost off the bench from forward Peyton Rogers (junior, Moravia) but in an unusual way as she knocked down her first 3-point basket to put the Dutch on top 54-52 with 5:04 left. She finished with eight points.
“That was just such a momentum play,” Steinkamp said. “She practices those and she’s on the perimeter a little bit more because she’s been playing with Kendall (Brown) in some lineups. For her to have the confidence to take that shot at a big point of the game and make it was great to see.”
Steinkamp said the significance of the win for the rising Dutch program extends beyond the conference standings.
“I give our players so much credit for continuing to fight,” he said. “It can be difficult at times in our conference. You play so many good teams and we’ve had some bad losses but throughout the year, we’ve just kept getting better.
“Now they believe. It’s one thing to talk about, ‘Yeah, we can beat a team like Luther,’ but to be able to put it together like we did is really fun to have happen.”
Central travels to Lincoln, Neb. to take on Nebraska Wesleyan University in a women’s-men’s doubleheader Saturday starting at 2 p.m. The Dutch were 81-71 winners in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 18 in Pella. Nebraska Wesleyan is 6-14 overall and 3-10 in the league heading into a non-conference home game with the College of St. Mary (Neb.) Wednesday night. Central then closes out the regular season at Buena Vista University next Wednesday.
“We just want to keep getting better and keep growing,” Steinkamp said. “We play two games against teams we’d be at home but it’s always hard to win on the road so we just have to take it day by day.”