Top-ranked Bellevue West remained unbeaten Saturday night, this time putting away the defending Class A champion.
The Thunderbirds moved their record to 16-0 with a 62-51 girls basketball win over host Omaha Central. Four players scored in double figures for Bellevue West, which never trailed against the seventh-ranked Eagles.
“I thought this was going to be one of our first big road games,” Thunderbirds coach Marc Kruger said. “This is a really hostile environment and I knew we had to be focused for it.”
Both teams struggled at the start but it was Bellevue West that got rolling first, opening up an 8-0 lead. Central (11-4) didn’t score its first points until LaNa’e Washington-Carson sank a layup with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
“There were probably some nerves from both sides,” Kruger said. “We just couldn’t get anything to fall early on.”
The Eagles rallied to close within 14-11 at the end of the opening period but a nine-point second quarter by Annie Szczepaniak allowed Bellevue West to take a 33-25 halftime lead. Central managed to stay close in the third quarter and drew within 35-32 after a layup by Jackie Beaugard.
A short jumper and a layup by Szczepaniak reopened the lead to seven and Central eventually fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.
“Annie stepped up really well for us,” Kruger said. “We talk about balanced scoring, and that was definitely a key tonight.”
Szczepaniak, a 5-foot-11 senior, finished with a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds. Three other Thunderbirds — guard Madi Braun, forward Chloe Akin-Otiko and center Kate Liveringhouse — each had 12 points.
Bellevue West won despite not shooting particularly well (3 of 13) from 3-point range. But the Thunderbirds still shot 44 percent from the field and sank 17 free throws to put away the Eagles.
“I thought another big key tonight was our defense,” Kruger said. “We wanted to keep Sylvia (Smith-Gatson) out of the paint as much as possible and I think we were able to do that.”
Smith-Gatson, the Eagles’ leading scorer, had a frustrating night. She was 3 of 11 from the field and finished with seven points.
Paige Muhammad had 12 points and Sydney McGruder added 10 for Central, which shot 35 percent from the field and 58 percent from the line.
The Eagles will have another tough test Tuesday night, playing eighth-ranked Millard North. The Mustangs rallied from a 20-point deficit in the Metro holiday tournament to defeat Central 64-59.
The Thunderbirds will play at Omaha Westside on Friday night.
Bellevue West (16-0) ................. 14 19 15 14—62
At Omaha Central (11-4) ................. 11 14 12 14—51
BW: Katie Imig 2, Elisha Cobbs 4, Madi Braun 12, Haelee Kowalski 5, Annie Szczepaniak 15, Chloe Akin-Otiko 12, Kate Liveringhouse 12.
OC: Megan Gamble 1, Paige Muhammad 12, Abigail Niebrugge 9, LaNa'e Washington-Carson 7, Jackie Beaugard 5, Sylvia Smith-Gatson 7, Sydney McGruder 10.
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