WALLA WALLA — As “MVP” chants reverberated throughout the Sherwood Center and with Whitman holding a comfortable lead, point guard Heather Johns calmy exited the game in the waning minutes.
Johns, who was named Northwest Conference Player of the Year on Tuesday, dropped a career-high 30 points as the Missionaries clinched a berth in the NWC title game with a convincing 77-60 win against Puget Sound on Thursday. Whitman now hosts Whitworth for the conference championship at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sherwood.
“I was kind of taken aback because I don’t really think about that,” Johns said after the game. “It’s always nice to get recognized when you have a nice game, but I was more excited for our team. While the recognition was cool, I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Johns, who finished 12-of-18 from the floor, got off to a blistering start, as she averaged a point per minute during the first half. A number of her first-half baskets came after knifing into the defense and creating enough space to get her shot off, despite Puget Sound’s best effort.
“I felt like they were pretty tight on me and I was just feeling it,” she said. “I kept hitting it in their face. I’m not sure they could have guarded me any tighter without having an arm bar on me.”
After holding a 15-point lead at intermission, Johns recognized the defense shifting toward her and started looking for her teammates.
“She’s also become so patient,” Whitman coach Michelle Ferenz said. “She attacks, but she doesn’t force (it). We had a few too many turnovers, but not many of those were hers.”
Johns finished with a game-high six assists, including four in the second half. Her offense was crucial down the stretch, as the Loggers trimmed the Whitman lead to six with around 10 minutes left in the game.
Johns, who was nursing calf cramps as the lead dwindled, re-entered the game and immediately connected on a shot just inside the free throw stripe. Following a Logger miss, Johns then found teammate Meghan White for a jumper to make it 63-50.
After she knocked down a pair of free throws, Johns then went down low for back-to-back hoops, including a nifty reverse layup at the six-minute mark. Johns then punctuated the 12-5 Missionary run with another dime to White.
“My shots were just falling in the first half, so I just kept shooting and they kept going in,” Johns said. “That was a huge advantage for us. Then the second half, they didn’t fall quite as much and they were guarding me a little bit different, we started spreading it around a little bit and then the drives opened up once again.”
White posted an impressive game with six points and a game-high 12 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. Hailey Ann Maeda also chipped in six rebounds off the bench, as Whitman held a 40-22 advantage on the glass.
Ferenz said the Missionaries’ 13 offensive boards were especially crucial, but following a slow start on the glass, Ferenz urged her post players to respond.
“We told them to get more aggressive,” Ferenz said. “We told them to start battling harder for position, especially in the block area. I thought they really dominated us in the paint in the first seven or eight minutes of the game. I told our post players to start beating them there.”
Puget Sound’s Amanda Forshay kept the Loggers in the game early on, as she scored 10 points and added three assists during the first 15 minutes.
But the Missionaries took control of the game from there, as Whitman entered intermission on a 16-2 run during the final four and a half minutes of the first half.
“We weren’t getting stops,” Ferenz said. “We were scoring, but we weren’t getting stops. When we started getting stops, we were still scoring and that’s when we pulled away. We weren’t being aggressive enough defensively.”
Forshay finished the game with only four points after halftime, including a lackluster 1-of-8 mark from the floor. Ferenz credited Sarah Anderegg and Maeda for their defensive work slowing down Puget Sound’s leading scorer. Anderegg also finished with 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
WHITMAN 77, PUGET SOUND 60
PUGET SOUND (60) — Forshay 7-15 0-1 14, Jones 4-9 0-0 12, Sheldon 4-7 1-4 9, Ainslie 4-7 0-0 8, Agcaoili 0-1 4-6 4, Wyszynski 3-7 0-0 6, Noren 1-1 1-1 3, Stumbaugh 1-4 0-0 2, Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Lekson 0-1 0-0 0, Roberts 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 6-12 60.
WHITMAN (77) — Johns 12-18 6-8 30, Anderegg 3-5 6-7 12, Traver 3-7 4-4 12, White 3-6 0-0 6, Mcdonald 0-2 0-0 0, Ketner 1-2 3-6 5, Brewer 2-4 0-0 5, Maeda 1-5 1-2 3, McGann 0-1 2-2 2, Alindogan 0-1 1-2 1, Gray 0-0 1-2 1, Buse 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 24-33 77.
Halftime score — UPS 26, Whit 41. 3-point goals — UPS 4-15 (Jones 4), Whit 3-13 (Traver 2, Brewer). Total fouls — UPS 21, Whit 20. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Total rebounds — UPS 22 (Forshay 5), Whit 40 (White 12). Turnovers — UPS 16, Whit 15. Assists — UPS 9 (Forshay 5), Whit 14 (Johns 6).