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SIOUX CITY, Iowa | After a slow first half, Kendall Bradbury, the NAIA’s leading scorer, finished with 15 points and 15th-ranked Taylor defeated No. 18 Northwest Christian 61-54 in the opening round of the Women’s NAIA Division II National Championship at the Tyson Events Center here Wednesday.

“It’s our first time here,” said Bradbury. “A lot of the jitters were there in the first half. We didn’t execute.”

Bradbury, who averages 23.5 points per contest, had just four points in the first half and only made 5 of 15 field goals in the game.

“We tried to limit her touches and guard her really well,” said Northwest Christian coach Heath Alexander. “We tried to really rotate with our help. We did a great job of it.”

Cassidy Wyse finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists for Taylor (24-10).

Morgan McKinney led the Beacons (23-7) with 17 points and added nine rebounds in the first tournament appearance for Northwest Christian. Katerina Brejchova had 10 points and nine rebounds and Anamaria Virjoghe added 10 points.

The Beacons raced out to a 10-0 lead to open the game and ended the first quarter with a 15-5 lead.

“I just think a lot of it was the girls being out here for the first time,” said Taylor coach Jody Martinez. “We didn’t execute early on offense or defense. I told them Northwest Christian will be a team that, if they get confidence early, will be a battle.”

Virjoghe, the Cascade Collegiate Conference Freshman of the Year, hit a jumper with 2:49 left in the first half to give the Beacons a 30-15 lead, their largest of the game.

“They began the game with confidence,” said Martinez. “We didn’t. Right before half I called that timeout. I said our goal was to be down 10 or under.”

Taylor ended the half on a 9-0 run and trimmed the lead to 30-24.

Taylor whittled away at Northwest Christian’s lead to start the second half. The Trojans went ahead 52-50 on a 3-pointer from Abby Buchs with 4:30 left in the game, the first lead of the game for Taylor.

“We talked at halftime to stay with the game plan and execute on both ends,” said Martinez. “I felt that our transition and conditioning in the fourth quarter was a little bit better than theirs.”

The Trojans outscored Northwest Christian 22-10 in the fourth quarter with the Beacons never getting any closer than four points the rest of the way.

“Late in the game, they were able to beat us on the dribble-drive and our rotation was a little bit late,” said Alexander. “That’s where they got some open looks. Credit Taylor. They did a heck of a job tonight.”

The Beacons looked visibly tired at the end of the game.

“It’s a long season,” said Alexander. “I think we’re a little bit tired with some stuff. They battled and they fought to the very end, so I’m very proud of them.”

Alexander was still happy with his team’s season.

“It was a great experience for our kids and our team,” said Alexander. “To see how far we’ve come since we took over four years ago, I’m super proud of our kids.”

Taylor plays third-ranked Concordia on Friday.

“I’m not looking forward to playing Concordia, but this is the tournament and you’ve got to play a one-seed eventually,” said Martinez. “We’re going to have to play a better defensive game than we did today.”

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