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College basketball: Wartburg women claim share of IIAC crown

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WAVERLY -- Roughly a month ago, Luther College handed Wartburg College its only Iowa Conference women's basketball defeat.

Wednesday, the 11th-ranked Knights were determined to take care of business in the rematch against the Norse. Trailing only twice at 2-0 and 4-0, Wartburg (21-2 overall, 13-1 IIAC) rolled to a 77-54 victory at Levick Arena to clinch a share of the IIAC regular-season crown.

"I'm just really proud of this group and how far we have come," Wartburg coach Bob Amsberry said. "I think that trophy is a testament to how hard these girls have worked and how we changed our culture, how we are together and how we have bought in."

The Norse beat the Knights, 66-61 on Jan. 18 in Decorah. 

Wednesday, Luther (13-9, 9-4) hung with Wartburg early, but after a Laura Hamilton bucket tied the game at 8-all with 6 minutes and 24 seconds left in the first quarter, the Knights took the lead for good on a Miranda Murphy bucket 1:20 later and controlled the game the rest of the way.

Wartburg led by as much as 42-22 in the second quarter and by 22 points twice in the third quarter.

"Luther is really good, and we knew we were going to have to play really well to beat them," Amsberry said. "We did. We played really well. Defensively I thought we played one of our best games."

The Norse got within 56-42 with 7:50 left in the game, but that was when Kristie Sommer stepped up and knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run that put the Knights back in control.

"Luther is a really good team and they never give up," said Sommer, who scored 13 of her game-high 18 in the fourth quarter. "They will keep fighting to the end of the game and we knew that. We had to match their intensity and finish out the game.

"I knew it was crucial that we kept our momentum, kept our pace, and my teammates did a good job of finding me. I was struggling, but I always have a green light and I'm going to shoot it when I'm open. It's a credit to my teammates for getting me those open shots."

Three other Knights reached double figures -- Katie Sommer and Aryn Jones each had 12 points, while Emma Gerdes came off the bench to score 10 and pull down 13 rebounds.

In the men's game, it looked like it was going to be a one-sided affair early as Wartburg jumped out to a 28-6 lead in the first half. But Luther refused to go away.

It was just a four-point deficit by halftime, 38-34, then the Norse got hot at the right time and closed on a 20-3 run to pull out a 69-64 victory, just their second conference win of the season.

"Our record is not as good this year, but our guys have gotten better and part of that is to keep fighting," Norse head coach Mark Franzen said. "They really blitzed us early, hit some big 3s and we didn't play very good defense.

"But give a lot of credit to our guys, we just kept going."

Down 61-49, Luther (4-16, 2-11) got a 3 from James Kappus to make it a two-point game with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left.

The Norse weren't done as Markell Lucas scored inside to make it 61-60 Wartburg, and Luther took its first lead on a Kevin Stafford bucket. The Knights (14-9, 6-8) stemmed the tide briefly on a conventional three-point play by Cam Kickbush, but the Norse took the lead for good when Stafford grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled to give Luther 65-64 lead with 1:04 to go.

"We got good looks for the most part, but we did not get good looks at crunch time," Wartburg coach Dick Peth said. "We were 6-for-22 from the field in the second half and that is not going to win any games, certainly.

"We don't talk about momentum with our guys, we talk about taking away their strengths and we did not do that late in the game. We allowed them to play to their strengths."

Nicolaisen lead all scorers with 19, while Wartburg, who played without leading scorer Nick Webber because of injury, was led by Sawyer Herman's 15.


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Sports Reporter

I’m a Waterloo native who has covered Cedar Valley sports for more than 30 years for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. I’m also a big Cincinnati Reds fan … Go Big Red Machine!

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