Storm clinch sixth straight IIAC title
WAVERLY, Iowa – A huge second half from Kate Nielsen helped the Simpson women's basketball team clinch its sixth straight Iowa Conference Championship with a 67-59 win over Wartburg on Wednesday night.
Nielsen scored 21 of her game-high 27 points after halftime to go along with seven rebounds on the evening and Kelsie Reeves had 12 points for the No. 7 Storm (21-1, 11-0), who extended their winning streak to 12.
The championship is the 12th in program history and the 11th under longtime head coach Brian Niemuth, who earned career win No. 499 on the night. By winning at least a share of six conference championships in a row, Simpson ties William Penn (1983-88) for the most consecutive in Iowa Conference history.
Held to just six points in the first half, Nielsen took over in the second. With Simpson down 33-31 with 16:17 left in the game, a Nielsen layup ignited a 16-0 run that put Simpson up 47-33. Nielsen scored eight during the stretch, including a run of six straight.
Wartburg answered with a 9-0 run of its own to cut the lead to 47-42 after a lay-in by Bayileigh O'Brien with 8:42 left, but Simpson made 10 of 12 from the free throw line in the final minutes to ice it.
O'Brien had 11 points to lead three players in double figures for the Knights (13-9, 6-5), who were hurt by 20 turnovers. Carly Jacobs and Kailey Kladivo had 10 points apiece.
Both teams got off to slow starts and struggled to take care of the ball early on. Wartburg committed 14 turnovers in the first half while Simpson coughed it up 11 times.
Simpson travels to Dubuque for a contest with Loras on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. The Duhawks (16-6, 6-5) lost to Coe on Wednesday, 57-42.
With the win, Simpson: clinched the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Iowa Conference Tournament … improved on its best start since the 1998-99 team went 24-1 … moves one game closer to becoming only the fourth team in Iowa Conference history to finish the regular season undefeated (1991-92 Wartburg, 1998-99 Simpson, 2004-05 Buena Vista) … helped 26th-year head coach Brian Niemuth improve his career record to 499-194, giving him a shot at becoming the 20th, 500-game winner in Division III when the Storm face Loras on Saturday.