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NEWBERG, Ore. – A decent start by the Linfield Wildcats against reigning Northwest Conference champion George Fox didn’t carry over to a strong finish as the Bruins rolled to a 64-51 victory Saturday night at the Wheeler Sports Center.
Linfield forward Kaely Maltman turned in her second straight double-double, hitting for a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Wildcats (2-14, 1-9 NWC) faced not only a more seasoned opponent but also a raucous crowd of nearly 2,000 excitable Bruins fans, on hand to celebrate Senior Night.
George Fox (17-4, 10-2 NWC) held serve in its own struggle to remain atop the NWC standings. The Bruins entered the night in a three-way tie for first place as NWC teams entered the stretch run of the regular season.
The ‘Cats forged a 4-0 lead to start the game on consecutive Maltman layups and Linfield stayed within reach of the Bruins during the game’s opening sequences. Tied 8-8 after eight minutes of action, Linfield looked capable of matching the Bruins basket-for-basket. But the hosts scored 10 straight points to take command, 18-8, and never relented after that. Linfield held its own through the remainder of the half and settled for a 28-16 deficit at the intermission.
Forward Katelyn Henson, Linfield's leading scorer, was limited to just two points in the first half. Henson went 1-for-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes though Maltman kept the 'Cats afloat with seven points and six rebounds before the break.
Linfield outscored George Fox 11-4 to start the second half, closing the gap to five on a layup by Henson. A steal from Tegan Grunwald seconds later put the Wildcats in position to make it a one-possession game, but Henson’s jumper careened off the rim and Hayley Cusick swished a three-pointer at the other end to make it 35-27 with 14:56 to go.
On the ensuing possession, Henson was whistled for an offensive foul, her fourth of the contest. The coaching staff elected to keep Henson in the game and less than a minute later, she was disqualified with her fifth foul with 13:51 left on the clock.
Just like that, in a two-minute span, Linfield’s best opportunity to score the upset had vanished.
Taylor Solomon scored 10 points while adding five rebounds, but the Wildcats’ point guard was charged with six of Linfield’s 16 turnovers.
Maltman played perhaps her best game of the season, adding four assists, one steal and no turnovers against the nationally ranked Bruins. She hit 6 of 12 from the floor. Five of her 11 rebounds came on the offensive glass.
Jessica McMillan contributed four points, three rebounds and two blocked shots off the bench for the Wildcats.
Henson finished with six points on 3 of 13 shooting. She also suffered four turnovers.
Nicole Blizzard paced George Fox with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists. Blizzard connected on three of GFU’s five three-point baskets. Megan Hays added 11 points and four rebounds in just 10 minutes of action.
George Fox’s 10-0 run midway through the first half proved especially costly. The Wildcats played the Bruins to within one point in the second half, 36-35.
AHEAD: After completing a seven-game road odyssey that included games in Tacoma, Salem and eastern Washington, Linfield returns to Ted Wilson Gym Friday night to face the Pacific Boxers. Game time is 6 o’clock.