LINCOLN – Northwest rarely ever trailed but also was rarely comfortably ahead during Thursday’s Class B state tournament quarterfinal against No. 1-rated Seward.
But thanks to a combined 38 points from guards Whitney Brown and Megan Cooper, the No. 9 Vikings were able to maintain their nearly game-long lead to post a 58-51 upset at the Devaney Sports Center.
“We came in and said we didn’t work this hard just to end the game here and that we were coming back tomorrow,” said Brown, who scored 10 of her team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter. “Definitely believing in ourselves helped us out a lot.”
Seward (20-5) scored the first five points of the third quarter to cap off an 8-0 run and take its lone lead of the game.
But the third 3-pointer of the game by Cooper put Northwest (19-5) back up for good 35-34. Averaging 5.5 points per game, the senior finished with 17 and was 4-for-5 on 3-pointers.
“All season we’ve had somebody step up,” Northwest coach Russ Moerer said. “Some games it’s Shanae (Suttles) who hits shots. Some games our posts come up and deliver. For (Cooper) to come out tonight and be able to do that, I think that helps convince them to get out of their triangle-and-two.”
Seward attempted to use a triangle-and-two on Brown and Suttles – something Moerer admitted surprised him in the teams’ regular-season meeting – but the Vikings confidently handled that.
“In games they always triangle-and-two me and Shanae Suttles,” Brown said.
“Just us working together in practice and having our posts set screens helped us out. Megan Cooper moved the ball fast around. It was a whole team effort.”
Seward held Northwest scoreless for the first 2:59 of the second half while going up 34-30. But Bluejays coach Tom Tvrdy said that stretch also presented a missed opportunity.
“It was 34-30, and we had about two or three possessions there where there was a chance to stretch it,” he said. “By the third one, I’m like, ‘We’ve kind of blown our chance to stretch this. We’ve got to hit one.’
“Then they hit one, and all of a sudden they hit a big three and were up again.”
Northwest came out firing from the start to go up 10-3 thanks by a pair of threes by Cooper.
“That really gave us a lot of momentum and pushed us to the top,” Brown said. “Megan comes through in big moments like that and hits shots that we need. She just never gives up and gives that good effort.”
That shooting performance left Tvrdy stunned.
“It’s just amazing, every shot they put up in the first quarter,” he said. “They made four threes in the first quarter, and that was nothing but net on them. At the end of the quarter they banked one in.
“Getting off to that fast start down here at state is big. That was a tough gut punch the way they came out and shot it.”
Northwest then used some key steals down the stretch to close out the game. But the Vikings also only went 10-for-18 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter.
“We found a way to finish it,” Moerer said. “But the good thing is we still have a teachable moment. We can still get better at basketball in March. We’re going to talk about that (Friday) morning, I guarantee you.”
Camryn Opfer finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Bluejays, who Tvrdy said were mentally tired from playing from behind all game.
Northwest, on the other hand, had the type of performance it needed to avenge an early-season 53-52 loss.
“When we played in December, they got out on us early and we had to fight and claw our way back,” Moerer said. “Our start was very important. …
“I think we came out tonight with the exact right mindset of ‘let’s see what happens.’ In the district game, we were tight. Not tonight.”
Northwest advances to Friday’s 3:45 p.m. semifinal against Waverly at Pinnacle Bank Arena.