Nolot’s free throws lift KWC in G-MAC opener

Mar. 2—Cali Nolot made two free throws with 0.1 seconds left to lift the Kentucky Wesleyan women’s basketball team to a thrilling 64-62 victory over Malone in the first round of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament Tuesday afternoon at the Sportscenter.

According to Nolot, who scored 10 of her team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter, she was just trying to go for a defensive rebound when she was fouled from behind.

“I didn’t realize the clock had gone down that far,” she said afterward. “I was going up for the rebound and I heard the whistle. I was like, ‘Oh, I gotta go shoot free throws now.’

“It was a lot of pressure, but I wasn’t trying to work myself up. I just told myself to go up there and shoot the ball.”

Up until that point, Nolot had made only 3-of-6 foul shots despite converting 5-of-8 shot attempts from the field.

“We are extremely proud of Cali Nolot,” Wesleyan co-coach Caleb Nieman said. “She’s been struggling with free throws all year long, and she’s just taken such a positive approach. She doesn’t let it get her down.

“She missed a couple free throws today, and I told her at the line, ‘Cali, this is perfect. … Now you get a chance to really build some confidence in a big-time way,’ and she was just smiling at me and laughing, so I knew we were good.”

Wesleyan (19-9) fell behind 25-18 at the end of the first quarter and trailed 36-29 at intermission, but a 17-9 third quarter helped KWC claim a 46-45 edge heading into the fourth period.

Nolot’s jumper punctuated a 7-0 KWC run to start the final frame, but Malone (15-12) answered with a 10-0 flurry to draw even at 55 with 4:07 left.

After Corina Conley made two foul shots to give Wesleyan a 62-57 edge with 1:51 to go, Malone’s Holly Groff sank a 3 and later scored in the post to tie the game within the final minute — setting the stage for Nolot’s late heroics.

Shaylee McDonald finished with 13 points for KWC, which shot 51.1% from the floor, 4-of-19 from 3-point range (21.1%) and 12-of-19 at the free-throw line (63.2%) with 19 turnovers.

Groff poured in a game-high 30 points for Malone, while Alexis Hutchison added 12 points and Robin Campbell chipped in 11 points. The Pioneers shot 45.1% from the field, 11-of-31 from distance (35.5%) and 5-of-8 at the foul line (62.5%) with 17 turnovers.

The Panthers, who entered the conference tournament as the third seed, will advance to play No. 2 seed Walsh in the semifinals on Friday in Ashland, Ohio.

Winning the conference would give KWC an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament, but the Panthers — ranked eighth in the Midwest Region — are confident in their body of work for an at-large opportunity.

“We thought this game was the game (to win and get in),” Nieman said. “If a GLIAC team that’s outside the top eight goes all the way through and wins their championship, then that’s a different story. If everything holds par, then we’re in the semifinals of one of the best conferences in the entire nation. so that should say something.”

Nolot prefers a different option.

“We’re gonna hopefully try to win this conference tournament and automatically go straight there,” she said.

MALONE 25 11 9 17 — 62

KENTUCKY WESLEYAN 18 11 17 18 — 64

Malone (62) — Groff 30, Hutchison 12, Campbell 11, Hunter 9.

Kentucky Wesleyan (64) — Nolot 14, McDonald 13, Conley 8, Hoosier 8, Barga 7, Hammelman 5, Richardson 4, Edmonds 3, Johnson 2.