Prior to Saturday night, it had been a pretty tough week for Millard West’s Paige Phipps.
The junior guard took an elbow from a teammate in practice and needed stitches just over her left eyelid.
But that pain was forgotten as Phipps sank seven free throws in overtime to help lead the third-ranked Wildcats to a 67-63 win over top-ranked Bellevue West. The victory boosted Millard West to 16-3 and handed the 17-1 Thunderbirds their first loss of the season.
“This is a great, great team win for us,” Phipps said. “We wanted it really bad because of the way we had lost to them earlier this season.”
The Wildcats reached the final of the Metro holiday tournament Jan. 3, only to be defeated by the Thunderbirds 67-53 for the championship. Saturday night’s contest bore little resemblance to that first game as Millard West led nearly the entire game before Bellevue West came roaring back.
It was tied 11-11 after the first quarter, but the Wildcats outscored the Thunderbirds 16-7 in the second to take a 27-18 halftime lead. It was the first time this season that Bellevue West trailed at half, and that deficit grew to 14 late in the third quarter after a layup by Millard West junior guard Samantha Waldron.
The Thunderbirds scored the final seven points of the period and rode that momentum into the fourth as they continued to whittle away at that deficit. Bellevue West closed within five, but the Wildcats reopened a seemingly safe nine-point advantage with only a few minutes left.
The Wildcats, hurt by late turnovers, were outscored 11-2 the remainder of regulation. Five points from junior center Kate Liveringhouse and a pair of 3-pointers by guard Madi Braun — the final one from the top of the key with 10 seconds left — tied the game at 53.
Millard West still had a chance to win in regulation, but a shot in the lane by Phipps bounced off the rim.
“After they tied it at the end, we tried to do everything we could to pump the girls back up,” Wildcats coach Kip Colony said. “I’ve got to give Bellevue West a lot of credit for the way it battled back.”
The four-minute overtime got off to a bad start for the Thunderbirds when Liveringhouse, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, fouled out. Waldron sank a free throw and Brooke Savage followed with a short jumper to put Millard West ahead 56-53, but a 3-pointer by Bellevue West’s Elisha Cobbs tied the game for the last time.
A three-point play by Waldron put the Wildcats ahead for good, and Phipps took it from there. She scored seven of Millard West’s final eight points on free throws, finishing with 11 points.
“I practice free throws all the time,” she said. “I was nervous shooting them, but they went in.”
Her ability to sink those pressure free throws prevented the Thunderbirds from pulling off their rally. Phipps made her final two foul shots with 3.7 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
“We had a stinker of a first half,” Bellevue West coach Marc Kruger said. “We fought hard in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.”
Waldron led all scorers with 24 points while Savage added 18. The Wildcats shot 42 percent from the field but won the game at the free-throw line, sinking 24 of 32 attempts.
The Thunderbirds shot 41 percent from the field and were 9 of 14 (64 percent) from the line.
“We had some girls sick with the flu this week, so I was concerned about that,” Colony said. “But we fought hard, and I’m really proud of my team.”
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