Western Washington senior Britt Harris had trouble finding words to describe the Vikings' Elite Eight experience until her coach interjected...
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Western Washington senior Britt Harris had trouble finding words to describe the Vikings’ Elite Eight experience until her coach interjected.
“She’s a little jittery right now,” Vikings coach Carmen Dolfo said with a smile.
It was the good kind of jitters. Harris had just posted a double-double and scored nine points in overtime to lead Western to a thrilling 80-76 victory over Nova Southeastern at Bill Greehey Arena on Tuesday, sending the Vikings to the NCAA Division II Women’s Final Four for the second time.
Western (29-3) plays Ashland (Ohio) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a spot in the national-championship game. The Eagles (35-1) knocked off Gannon 74-63.
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What words Harris could muster on Tuesday were to the point.
“It was just really intense,” said the 6-foot-2 center, who had 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
At first, it looked like Western wouldn’t have any trouble with Nova, a school from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Vikings built a 17-point lead in the first half and led by 13 at the break, using their trio of posts — Harris, Sarah Hill (6-3) and Kayla Bernsen (6-3) — to dominate the Sharks’ all-guard lineup. Western outrebounded Nova 21-8 in the first half.
But Western couldn’t hold on to the ball to start the second half, allowing Nova back in it.
The Vikings committed five turnovers in their first six possessions in the half, and finished with 27.
“Turnovers killed us. They just kind of chipped their way back in the game,” Dolfo said. “We were trying to protect it instead of just playing.”
The Sharks (23-9) took a 63-62 lead on Tailor Jones’ putback with 5:03 left — their first advantage since 15:05 left in the first half. The Vikings didn’t score a basket for four minutes during that stretch.
Western trailed 68-66 in the final minute until, coming out of a timeout, senior guard Corinn Waltrip banked in a floater to tie the score with nine seconds remaining.
“Ideally, it would have been a little bit easier of a shot, but my team had faith in me, and wanted the ball in my hands,” Waltrip said. “So I took the shot.”
At the other end, Nova’s Amanda Burakoski’s desperate shot fell short, forcing overtime.
In the extra period, it was all Harris and Jones. Jones, a Northwestern transfer, scored six straight points, trading buckets with Harris.
With 31 seconds left, Harris made a layup and drew a foul from Jones, her fifth. Harris sank the free throw to give Western a 77-74 lead.
Waltrip, who had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, added four more free throws to put the game out of reach.
After the buzzer, the few dozen Western fans who had made the 2,300-mile trek from Bellingham to Texas were all that could be heard in the arena. The Vikings are focused on giving them something more to cheer about Wednesday night.
“We’ve been through way too much this season to surrender. We never say die,” Hill said. “We have more business to do.”