DIII basketball — No. 24 GFU obliterates California Lutheran and edges Wheaton to open the 2013-2014 campaign

Following a frustrating and injury-plagued season that saw George Fox struggle down the stretch and miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years, the Bruins started anew over the weekend by beating a pair of tournament teams from a year ago.

GFU began the 2012-2013 season with a pair of road losses, but hit the ground running Friday to crush California Lutheran 88-59 and then held on to top Wheaton 53-50 Saturday, both at Miller Gym. by: SETH GORDON - Slice and dice - George Fox freshman guard Kimberly Frost cuts between defenders on her way to the lane during the Bruins' 88-59 victory over California Lutheran in the season opener at Miller Gym on Friday.

“I really like where our team is at,” head coach Michael Meek said. “We gained a ton of maturity last year. I think it’s really showed up in our play this year just as far as our ability to hold off teams. Last year at the same time we were sitting at 0-2 and this year we’re sitting at 2-0.”

The Bruins tussled with the Regals in the first seven minutes of the season opener, then turned on the after burners, ripping off a 40-9 run to close the half with a 54-24 lead.

George Fox effectively pressured Cal Lutheran, grabbing 14 steals among 22 Regal turnovers, and shot a blistering 60.7 percent from the field in the opening half.

Senior point guard Hayley Cusick directed the offensive, attacking the lane often to rack up 13 points in the opening 20 minutes.

“Overall, I thought she had just a solid weekend,” Meek said. “She’s a veteran player now and it’s been nice to see her continue to mature.”

Taking advantage of a tightly-called game by the referees, the Bruins did a lot of their damage at the free throw line in the opening half, hitting 18 of 24 from the charity stripe. That included a 6-for-6 effort from junior Megan Hays, who along with junior transfer Lauren Codling, had eight first-half points.

George Fox built it’s lead to as high as 43 points before the Regals cut it back down in the final 10 minutes. Cusick finished with a game-high 17 points, with Hayes adding 10. Codling, sophomore Nicole Blizzard and freshman Kylie Dummer had eight apiece.

Facing a stiffer test against Wheaton, a top-25 team a year ago, the Bruins once again got off to a good start, jumping out to 14-5 and 27-11 leads.

George Fox cooled over the final six minutes, however, missing their final nine shots to enter the half up 27-15.

The Thunder slowly fought their way back into the game, getting the deficit under 10 points just past the midway point of the second half and pulling within four at 48-44 with 1:55 to play.

Senior forward Megan Arnoldy, who spent most of the first half of the season opener on the bench in foul trouble, then gave way to others as Meek reached deep into bench in the second half, rebounded with a strong effort against Wheaton.

She responded for George Fox with a three-point play to push the lead back to 51-44, but the Bruins went 2-for-4 from the line as Wheaton hit a pair of baskets to make it 53-48 with 22 seconds remaining.

The Thunder nearly pulled off the comeback, hitting a lay up and forcing a turnover to give themselves two looks from beyond the arc to tie the game, but neither fell and the Bruins survived.

“I think we showed some outstanding moments this weekend and if there’s anything, we need to learn how to be more consistent throughout 40 minutes in how we play,” Meek said.

Arnoldy finished with 14 points and Cusick added 11 for the Bruins, while University of New Mexico sophomore transfer Jordyn Peacock put up nine points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

George Fox (2-0) will travel to California to play La Verne Friday and Chapman Saturday.

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