Searching for any fresh adjective to describe the heroic strength and poise of post player Jamie Lange, the Northwest Conference freshman of the year, coach Loree Payne paused.
“Beast mode,” the University of Puget Sound women’s basketball coach said.
Virtually dead in the water with four minutes remaining, the sixth-ranked Loggers rallied to stun visiting Lewis & Clark, 61-58, in the NWC tournament semifinals Thursday at Memorial Fieldhouse.
UPS (25-1) extended its winning streak to 18 games, and will play Whitman — a 78-71 winner at George Fox — in the conference championship game Saturday night in Tacoma.
The winner Saturday will grab the NWC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
But first, the Loggers surely had reason to jump around and celebrate their third victory this season over the Pioneers (16-10) — on a night they were outplayed for much of 3 1/2 quarters.
They had no answer for the sweet-shooting Ayisat Afolabi, who poured in a game-high 30 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the loss for Lewis & Clark.
Afolabi kept wearing out the top of the key, making jump shot after jump shot as the Pioneers led 56-46 with 3:39 remaining.
Enough was enough, at least in Lange’s mind. The freshman from Sumner took over the game, scoring 10 of her career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter — eight coming in the final 3:25.
And suddenly the Pioneers began settling for quick shots, feeding the Loggers’ comeback frenzy.
“Defense wins games, and I felt like defensively, to hold a team to 58 points when one player (Afolabi) has 30 … we did an incredible job on everybody else,” Payne said.
Alexis Noren’s jumper after rebounding a missed Lange free throw tied the game at 58-58 with 1:02 remaining.
And after Rachel Cox badly missed a baseline jumper on the other end, UPS got it inside to Lange again.
The first shot missed. She grabbed the rebound.
The second one missed. She sighed, and took it again.
The third attempt was short, too.
On the fourth try, Lange pivoted to her left. And with two defenders all over her, she muscled up the game-winning layup with 10.1 seconds remaining.
“With all the arms across my face, it (the basketball) weighed about 40 pounds in the last one,” Lange said. “Good thing I hit the weight room.”
She converted the three-point play to give UPS a 61-58 lead, finishing off a Loggers’ 15-2 run.
The Pioneers never really got a good play off in the final seconds. Miyah Leith dribbled inside and kicked it out to Sarah Hogman on the left side. Her game-tying 3-point attempt went wide.
Noren added 15 points, nine rebounds — and enjoyed one crazy victory.
“I didn’t feel we were panicked. The whole time, we felt poised,” Noren said. “We were waiting for that spark to show up.”