SALEM, Ore. – Leading its rival for all but 36 seconds of fierce Northwest Conference competition Friday evening inside Cone Field House, Linfield needed a clutch 3-pointer from Taylor Solomon (Jr., Kirkland, Wash.) to hang on for a 60-58 victory over Willamette.
The Wildcats (5-7, 1-2 NWC) earned their first conference victory of the year while dropping the Bearcats to 1-3 against league opponents and 3-10 overall.
After coming back from as many as 11 points down, the Bearcats gained their one and only lead of the night on Jojo DeLong's 3-point make from the left wing with 1:52 to go. But Solomon responded with a clutch transition 3-pointer under pressure from nearly the exact same spot on the opposite end of the floor to flip the lead back over to Wildcat control.
Willamette fouled with 16.6 seconds remaining, and a miss on the front end of a one-and-one opportunity gave the home team one final possession facing just a two-point deficit. Julia Brand worked her way into the paint, but missed both her first look and a last-second put-back attempt as time expired.
Solomon finished with 11 points, including a 3-for-5 performance from long range, for the Wildcats. Kaely Maltman (Sr., Sandy, Ore.) recorded her second consecutive double-double with a team-high 13 points and game-high 14 rebounds to go along with five assists.
Willamette's DeLong led all players with 23 points, including five 3-pointers. Katie Kalugin supplied a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Daena Mau added 11 more points for the home team.
A Katelyn Henson (Jr., Camas, Wash.) jumper started things off for Linfield, and the teams played to a 7-7 tie through 4:39 of action. Back-to-back buckets from Jessica McMillan (Soph., McMinnville, Ore.) sparked a 13-6 run that allowed the Wildcats to build a double-digit lead with 5½ minutes until intermission.
Willamette went outside to cut away at the lead, firing off a total of 16 shots from beyond the arc in the first half. But despite knocking down three 3-pointers over the last five minutes of the half, including a pair from Mau, the Bearcats trailed their rivals by six, 32-26, at the break.
Linfield continued to lead throughout the second half, though not entirely comfortably, as Willamette stayed within striking distance, never allowing the advantage to inch past 10 points after the 13-minute mark of the period. DeLong cut the lead to three points on a long-range bucket with 7:05 remaining, setting the scene for an entertaining finish.
Henson and Kalugin traded baskets before DeLong hit another 3-pointer to tie the game at 55 points apiece with 2:41 remaining. Maltman broke the tie – the only stalemate of the second period – with a layup on a handoff from Henson, before DeLong and Solomon finished things off with a pair of 3-pointers for their respective teams, Solomon's being the game winner.
Linfield won despite converting on just 46 percent (7-for-15) of its free throw attempts and committing 18 turnovers. Willamette scored 11 points off those Wildcat miscues while turning the ball over just five times on its end of the court.
Henson added 10 points and seven rebounds to the Wildcats' total, while Quincey Gibson (Fr., Issaquah, Wash.) finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
'CAT SCRATCH: Maltman recorded her fifth double-double of the season and 11th of her career...though 12 games, the senior averages a double-double with 15.0 points and a conference-leading 10.1 rebounds per night...Linfield shot 49.0 percent from the floor, its best output in league play this year...the Wildcats topped the Bearcats for the second straight contest dating back to last season.
AHEAD: Linfield returns home to Ted Wilson Gymnasium to play host to defending regular season conference champion Lewis & Clark. Action gets underway Saturday evening at 7 p.m.
Shoots 3-for-5 from long range
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