Andrea Larson ignited Wayne State off the bench with a career-high 15 points and the Wildcats held Nebraska-Kearney to just 28.8 percent shooting as the Wildcats downed the Lopers 69-56 in the women’s college basketball opener for both teams Saturday at Rice Auditorium in Wayne.
The Wildcats got off to a sluggish start, never holding a lead in the first quarter. Wayne State made just two baskets in the first quarter and trailed 12-4 with 1:19 left in the first quarter until the Wildcats got four straight free throws from junior Paige Ballinger to cut UNK’s lead to 12-8 after one quarter.
The in-state rivals went back and forth in the second quarter featuring six ties and 11 lead changes, but it was the play of Larson off the bench late in the second quarter that sparked the Wildcats to a 34-29 halftime lead.
The Wildcats scored the first seven points of the second quarter and took their first lead of the game at 15-12 on a Haley Moore 3-pointer. UNK battled back and held a 26-24 lead at the 3:00 mark in the first half.
Larson then took over for the Wildcats and eight points at the end of the half, including six in the final 1:59 to give Wayne State a 34-29 lead at intermission. Another key for Wayne State in the second quarter surge was 11-of-12 free throw shooting.
Wayne State pushed the lead to nine early in the third stanza on a Haley Moore trey, putting the Wildcats ahead 41-32 with 5:13 to play in the quarter. After UNK got within four at 41-37, Wayne State closed the quarter strong and used a Maggie Lowe 3-pointer to end the third quarter for a 49-40 Wildcat advantage.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 12 at 53-41 following an Anna Martensen layup. UNK got as close as seven at 53-46, but Wayne State answered with a Martensen layup and a Moore trey to push the lead back to 12 (58-46) with just under five minutes to play. The Wildcats held off the Lopers with 9-of-12 free throw shooting in the fourth quarter to post the 69-56 win.
Wayne State made 20-of-43 shots from the field for 46.5 percent, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range. The Wildcats were 25-for-30 (83.3 percent) at the free throw line. Maggie Schulte led three double-digit scorers for Wayne State with 19 points and eight rebounds. Larson followed with an efficient 15-point night in just 14 minutes of playing time, going 6-for-10 from the field and 3-of-3 at the line. Paige Ballinger also hit double figures with 14 points.
UNK shot just 28.8 percent from the field on 21-of-73 shots, going 5-for-28 from the 3-point line. The Lopers were 9-of-16 at the foul line. Nieka Wheeler scored 17 points for UNK followed by Michaela Barry with 15.
Wayne State held a 44-40 edge in rebounding over the Lopers thanks to eight caroms from Martensen and Schulte while Ballinger and Reiner grabbed six boards apiece. Wheeler had 11 for UNK. Wayne State had 20 turnovers in the game to just 11 for UNK. Moore handed out six of Wayne State’s 12 assists in the game while Ballinger had three blocks with Schulte recording two.
Wayne State (1-0) will be at home again Sunday afternoon, hosting Peru State in a 3 p.m. contest at Rice Auditorium.