EUREKA, Ill. – It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But in the end, the Westminster College women's basketball team remained undefeated in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play on Saturday, escaping with a 72-67 road victory over Eureka College. The Blue Jays, who improved to 8-1 on the season; 3-0 in conference play, managed to squeak by a pesky Red Devil squad thanks in large part to a trio of key 3-point baskets down the stretch by junior guard Rei Imamura.
The win was the eighth straight for the Blue Jays.
"For the second game in a row, Rei hit some massive shots," Westminster Coach James Arnold said. "Today we really needed it with MJ (Mirrakohl Johnson) being doubled and Kendahl (Adams) fouling out. (Imamura) is a special player."
Westminster appeared to be on the verge of running away with the game early, opening with a 12-0 run before Eureka got on the scoreboard with nearly four minutes gone by in the contest. The Blue Jays pushed the margin to 13, 15-2, before the teams played to an 8-all draw the remainder of the period and a Westminster lead of 23-10.
But the Red Devils turned the tide in the second frame, outscoring Westminster, 19-8, to pull to within two at intermission, 31-29. The Blue Jays shot only 29 percent from the field in the quarter after shooting 50 percent in the first.
In the third period, Westminster was able to increase its lead to six, 38-32, but Eureka would again claw its way back into the game with a 5-0 run to pull within one, 38-37. The Blue Jays would once more put some cushion between themselves and the Red Devils, taking a 50-44 advantage on a pair of free throws by Adams. Westminster would hold on to lead 51-46 heading into a nail-biting fourth quarter.
In the see-saw fourth quarter, Eureka tied the game, 54-all, on a Sierrah Seals basket with 6:42 to go in the game and then took its first lead of the day, 55-54, as Josie Morgan converted on 1 of 2 free throw attempts. Westminster regained the lead on an Abbie Reece layup, 56-55, but Morgan would hit another basket to put Eureka back on top, 57-56, before Imamura nailed a trey to put the Blue Jays back on top, 59-57.
Eureka refused to go away and tied the game 59-all, but a Makayla Jackson bucket and another 3-pointer by Imamura, this one from the right corner, pushed the Blue Jays' advantage to three, 64-61. A Kennedy Dura free throw and an Ashley Harfst 3-pointer put the Red Devils back on top once again, but the sharp-shooting Imamura answered with a deep three from the left side of the court, giving Westminster a 67-65 lead with under a minute remaining. Both Jackson and Imamura would hit clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the victory for Westminster.
Arnold said the Blue Jays were "fortunate" to shoot the ball well from the perimeter once again and were able to get "just enough stops" for the victory.
"I am thrilled for our ladies that we found a way to pull today's game out," Arnold said. "We were playing a hungry, talented and super hard-working Eureka team."
Imamura finished the game with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Adams (5-11 field; 2-4 3-point) and Johnson (5-14 field; 2-2 free throws) had 17 and 12 points, respectively.
"You know MJ and Kendahl are special players when they have 'off' nights and still put up those kinds of numbers," Arnold said.
Westminster finished the contest shooting 39 percent from the field; 48 percent from 3-point range. Eureka shot 39 percent from the field (24-61) and 33 percent (7-21) from beyond the arc. The Blue Jays and Red Devils shot 76 percent (13-17) and 71 percent, respectively, from the free-throw line. Westminster outrebounded Eureka, 44-32.
Westminster returns to action on Saturday when the Blue Jays host Fontbonnein a 1 PM conference matchup in Historic Gym.
"It was a busy week for us and I know the ladies are exhausted physically and mentally," Arnold said regarding the Blue Jays' three games this week. "I am excited for them to have a few days off, focus on finals and resting a little.
The contest against Fontbonne will also be Westminster's Ugly Christmas Sweater Game. Fans are invited to wear their own "ugly Christmas sweater."