Lauren Johnson

Lewis-Clark State's Lauren Johnson celebrates a 3-pointer against William Penn during anfirst-round game at the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship at the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Thursday.

Casey Page, casey.page@lee.net

BILLINGS -- Lauren Johnson’s shooting touch kind of disappeared in the final games of the regular season.

She picked a great time to have it come back.

The junior forward scored a game-high 14 points – 10 in the game-deciding second quarter – to help Lewis-Clark State break away from William Penn 59-45 Friday afternoon in the first round of the NAIA Division I Women’s National Basketball Championship at Rimrock Auto Arena.

The Warriors (32-1), ranked No. 2 in the country, will play Bethel (Tenn.) in the round of Sweet 16 on Friday at 6:15 p.m. Bethel (24-10) advanced with a 70-57 win over Wayland Baptist.

William Penn, making its first NAIA national tournament appearance, finished 18-14.

It is the 10th time Lewis-Clark State has advanced to the second round.

“Coach (Brian Orr) told us he didn’t need our best game, he needed our best effort,” said Johnson, who joined the Frontier Conference champions this season after starting her collegiate career at Wenatchee Valley.

“We knew they had a big presence inside and rebounding and blocking out would be important. We knew if we do that, everything will fall into place. Props to them, they’re a very good team.”

Lewis-Clark State outscored the Statesmen 25-14 in the second quarter. After trailing 23-20, the Warriors put together a 26-6 run that carried over into the third quarter.

Johnson dropped in back-to-back 3-pointers during the surge. “If it’s there, it’s there,” Johnson said of her 3-point shots.

Johnson came to Billings mired in a small shooting slump. She was 5 for 21 from the field in the last five games of the regular season and 2 of 19 from 3-point range in the last seven.

“It happens,” said Johnson, whose smile never left. “It’s something you can’t let get in your head. When something like that happens, you know you have so many great teammates who will pick you up. You have teammates who are amazing.”

Her first 3-pointer of the second quarter was her first since Feb. 18. “The 3’s are just normal parts of the reads,” she said.

The 14 points, three of shy of her season-best of 17, more than doubled her season average of 5.8 points a game.

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“We absolutely have confidence in her,” said Orr. “We want players do what they do. And she can shoot.”

Senior guard Caelyn Orlandi, the Frontier Conference player of the year, finished with 12 points and six assists for Lewis-Clark State. She made four 3-pointers. Hailey Turner came off the bench to add 10 points and eight rebounds.

“We got off to a slow start,” said Orr, who is originally from Livingston. “We needed to be better rebounding and I thought we did a better job of that in the second half.

“The great thing about this group is they know they are capable of playing better.”

William Penn, who used 14 players, were led by Vashti Nwagbaraocha’s 10 points. Alyssa Phillips had 11 rebounds for the Statesmen. William Penn shot 26 percent from the field, including just 20 percent (6 of 30) in the second half.

NOTES: Orr has coached Lewis-State in the national tournament at four different sites: Jackson, Tenn., Frankfort, Ky., Independence, Mo., and Billings. ... The Warriors reached the Elite Eight last season before losing to Baker (Kan.). ... Wayland Baptist was without head coach Alesha Robertson-Ellis, who remained in Texas for the birth of her child.

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