ST. LOUIS - Westminster women's basketball opened the 2016-17 season with an 83-60 loss to No. 8 Washington University.
The Blue Jays made the game against the nationally-ranked Bears competitive from start to finish, despite adding seven newcomers to its roster for this season.
"I wasn't sure what to expect tonight," said Westminster Head Coach Tracey Braden of her freshman. "We threw the young kids in the fire tonight and they competed and they responded."
After getting off to a quick back-and-forth start, a jump shot from Juli Hix with under two minutes left in the first quarter gave Westminster its first lead of the game at 13-11.
The Bears took over the lead and increased it to as many as six in the second quarter, but back-to-back jump shots from Payton Beeler and Hix cut the lead to 19-23.
"Juli came off the bench for us tonight and was incredible," said Braden.
A Bears 10-2 run gave Wash U the biggest lead of the game thus far. A three-pointer from Kelsey Ray pulled Westminster within nine at the half, 37-28.
Braden was pleased with the effort she saw from her squad in the first half.
"My main focus going into this game was to play hard," said Braden. "That's a characteristic of who we are and I don't want that to change. No matter the competition or the score, we still play hard."
The Blue Jays started out the second half strong, with two back-to-back layups from Mirrakohl Johnson to cut the lead 37-32.
"Mirrakohl was a beast for us tonight," said Braden of her starting forward.
A forced turnover and a three-pointer from Andrea Zalis cut the lead again to 39-35 just two minutes into the half.
The Bears began to add a stronger full-court pressure which spawned a 13-2 run for Wash U. The Blue Jays ended the third quarter with a 57-44 deficit.
Forcing turnovers and draining ten field goals in the fourth quarter led to an eventual Bears victory, 83-60.
"The two areas that stick out are offensive boards and free throws," said Braden. "We need to be more aggressive an attack the rim. We have the talent."
Zalis led the Blue Jays with 20 points and eight rebounds.
"Andrea Zalis played well," said Braden. "She had to run the point and handle pressure for us tonight and there was no hesitiation from her."
Johnson added 14 points and nine rebounds while Ray dished out five assists.
Westminster continues play Friday and Saturday at the SLIAC / CCIW Tip-Off in Decatur, Ill. Friday's match against host Millikin is set for 5 p.m. while Saturday's match against Elmhurst is set for 1 p.m.