SEWARD, Neb. – Saturday’s GPAC heavyweight battle between second-ranked Concordia and fourth-ranked Morningside had all the intensity expected of a contest voted ‘NAIA Game of the Week.’ With Bailey Morris’ career high 27 points and Katie Rich’s lockdown defensive effort, the Bulldogs topped the Mustangs 78-66 at Walz Arena. Concordia pushed its mark to 17-1 overall and 10-1 in GPAC action.
“I think both teams were out to prove something today,” Bulldog head coach Drew Olson said of the matchup between the league’s top-ranked teams. “Morningside’s an awesome team with great players. Their style of play is really fun, especially when it’s matched up against a team like us and the way that we play. That had to be one of the most entertaining games of the year.”
In a game filled with stars on both sides, the sophomore Morris, a Roseland, Neb., native stole the show while knocking down shots from virtually everywhere on the court. She drilled 10 of 17 attempts overall, including 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. She also showed off her patented dizzying-quick drive to the basket, where she either finished herself or dropped a dime to an open teammate.
“Bailey is turning into one of the best players in the conference and one of the best players in the country,” Olson said. “She is coming along. She’s just a sophomore. Her upside is huge. She keeps getting better.”
Morris, Concordia’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, completed a white-hot week in which she went for a combined for 48 points in two conference home victories. The 5-foot-4 guard saved her best in the biggest game of the season to date.
“We were really ready for this game,” Morris said. “I don’t think I really took any shots that I wouldn’t normally take. It’s just today they were falling.”
Morningside (16-4, 8-3 GPAC) made a late push to cut Concordia’s lead from 11 all the way down to three after an Ashlynn Muhl 3-pointer with 2:43 left in the game. With contributions from many, the Bulldogs then went on an 11-0 run capped by a Morris layup following a Rich steal. Rich also plucked one of her four thefts earlier in the run when she intercepted a Leann Osten pass and finished at the other end.
Rich, the GPAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, was again a menace for the opponent to deal with. She spent most of the afternoon mirroring returning First Team All-American guard Chelsie Trask, who was held to 11 points and just 2-for-10 shooting from the field. For only the third time this season, Trask failed to knock down a 3-pointer.
Junior guard Kristen Conahan struggled at times with her jumper on Saturday, but she rebounded to sink a back-breaking 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the game that initiated the game-deciding 11-0 run. She finished with nine points, all on triples, in 31 minutes of play.
Morningside, which entered the game leading the GPAC with 9.0 treys per game, connected on 8 of 23 attempts from downtown. The sniping of senior guard Bobbi McManaman (4-for-5 from deep) allowed the Mustangs to stay within striking distance for much of the afternoon. However, they made only 10 of 21 shots from the foul line and had 20 turnovers to the Bulldogs’ 13.
“In the second half we took care of the ball and knocked down some open shots,” Olson said. “You could see the game change when we did start turning the ball over. That’s when Morningside climbed back in and cut it to two, but our kids were mentally tough.”
Recent years have seen several great battles between Concordia and other top teams in the league such as Morningside. Saturday’s game was no different.
“We’re always excited to play Morningside, Northwestern, Briar Cliff – any of those teams,” Morris said. “They’re a good team and they’re well coached. So it’s just kind of a fun game to play. You know it’s going to be a good game.”
Morris finished with a line of 27 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Jericca Pearson (13) and Rich (11) joined Morris in double-figure scoring. Pearson tied Tracy Peitz and Rich with a team high six rebounds.
The Mustangs were led by the 15 points of Muhl, who went 7-for-14 from the field and hauled in eight rebounds. Osten added 13 points and four assists.
Concordia is now 6-0 against ranked opponents with two victories over Morningside this season. The Bulldogs have won 22-consecutive home games and 25 of 26 contests against conference opponents.
Morris has scored at least 20 points in four games, including three of the last five contests. Her effort on Saturday vaulted her into third place on the GPAC scoring leaderboard.