Panem’s big game powers Western Nebraska to opening-round win over Iowa Western
LUBBOCK, Texas – When it comes to scoring options for the Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team, sophomore guard Ashley Panem is about fourth on the list.
In the opening round of the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Championship tournament on Monday, she was front and center, and her effort helped put the Cougars into the second round.
Panem, who averaged 8.3 points per game during the regular season, poured in a game-high 24 points, and her ability to hit a key basket when Western Nebraska needed to hold off a charge from Iowa Western, was a big reason the Cougars captured a 79-70 victory over the Reivers at the Rip Griffin Center.
“Ashley was fantastic tonight,” Western Nebraska head coach Chad Gibney said. “She was aggressive offensively and able to score on all three levels. But then on the defensive end I thought she did a good job, too. Her defensive versatility as far as guarding multiple positions was really important for us.”
With the win, Western Nebraska (16-5) advances to the second around to face No. 1 seed Jones College on Tuesday at 2 p.m. Iowa Western see its season end at 22-3.
Panem scored 16 of her points in the second half, and her second 3-pointer of the game with 2:26 left in the third quarter helped the Cougars open up a 48-43 lead and take a 50-46 lead into the final quarter. She then helped cap a 12-4 run with a 10-foot jumper with 4:51 left to play to give Western Nebraska its biggest lead of the game at 64-55.
Less than 30 seconds later, her third 3-pointer, this one from the left wing, put the Cougars up by double digits at 67-56, and Iowa Western never threatened again.
Western Nebraska’s defense set the tone early in the game and led to 28 Iowa Western turnovers, 15 in the first half, which led to 24 points for the Cougars.
“We really want to extend catches on the perimeter and do a good job of getting teams playing at a pace their not comfortable with,” Gibney said. “And I thought our girls did an excellent job of that. Typically that’s how we want to play anyway, but Iowa Western is fairly structured and really well-coached. They run a lot of good stuff, so to disrupt their timing is really important,”
Western Nebraska got its normal contribution from sophomore guard Ale’jah Douglas, who added 17 points and six assists while Lidsey Mahoukou added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Hayley Berfield paced Iowa Western with 19 points. Isnelle Natabou added 12 points and seven rebounds while Gabriella Smith chipped in 11 and Dustie Obah 10 in the loss.
After the Reivers took their only lead of the first half at 12-11 with 1:48 to play in the first quarter, Western Nebraska went on a 6-0 run to forge its biggest lead of the game at 17-12 just before the end of the first half. Then, after Iowa Western closed to within 17-16 on a layup by Natabou less than 10 seconds into the second quarter, the Cougars reeled off seven of the next eight points, capped by a Payton Fields 3-pointer from the left wing to put Western Nebraska up 24-17 with 6:20 to play in the half.
Down 31-24, the Reivers clawed back at the free throw line, hitting 4 of 6 attempts in the final 3:02 of the first half, while Hayley Berfield hit a big shot and Natabou closed the half with a three-point play to pull Iowa Western to within 34-33 at the intermission. Only a Fields 3-pointer for Western Nebraska kept the Cougars in the lead going into the second half, but the Reivers could never close the gap completely.