Sunday, January 13, 2019
I'm feeling infinitely better after my Los Angeles Rams dispatched Dallas last night in the NFC Divisional Playoffs last night and with that worry out of my head for the time being, let's take a look at my latest power ranking for MIAC Women's Hoops after this last week of action.
7. St. Kate's
10. St. Olaf
I had some really, really tough decisions to make this time around based on the latest results. I don't doubt that there'll be some squawking from some (and I can't help that) but I'm simply going by what I see in trends and the latest results. First off, there's no doubt at the top spot with UST having a seeming choke-hold on the rest of the conference by virtue of the way they shut down Augsburg yesterday over at Si Melby Hall by taking the Auggies completely out of their up-tempo game. But the Tommies have little time to celebrate their latest conquest as they have a very tough Bethel team coming into Schoenecker Arena on Wednesday night before SMU makes the jaunt up the River and the CP Rail River Sub to take on the Tommies next Saturday afternoon. Augsburg meanwhile had better recover fast from this latest setback as they have a very tricky and equally athletic Hamline team coming into Si Melby Hall on Wednesday night before they travel down to Northfield to take on St. Olaf next Saturday. For Bethel meanwhile, this could be the toughest week for them of all this season and this may be where they have to make their last stand and come through wrt their MIAC title/NCAA Tournament hopes. A visit to UST on Wednesday night before Hamline comes to Robertson Center on Saturday. I just think the Royals have to come away with a sweep this week to salvage their sagging hopes after last Wednesday night's loss at home to Augsburg.
Below these three teams, it's a complete mess and, as I said, I had to make some very difficult decisions in attempting to shake this out. I shoved SMU up to the fourth spot after they took care of cellar-dwellers Carleton and Macalester at home but now comes the rough part - a looonnnggg roadie up to the Fargo-Moorhead area on Wednesday night to take on an improving Concorida team and then a visit to Schoenecker Arena on Saturday to take on said UST. The Cardinals had better hope for a split to avoid complete disaster. Hamline meanwhile dropped a close one to said Cobber team up in Moorhead Wednesday night but got the job done yesterday at home against Carleton. This next week though is daunting: At Augsburg on Wednesday night and then at Bethel next Saturday and this young team will definitely have its mettle tested. CSB had a solid week this last week; getting a big road win at GAC on Wednesday night and then getting a nice home victory yesterday against St. Olaf with members of the 1998-99 Final Four team in attendance. And the opportunity is there this week for the Blazers to consolidate on these latest gains as they host St. Kate's on Wednesday night before a roadie down to Northfield Saturday to face Carleton.
For the time being, I have St. Kate's on the outside looking in despite yesterday's big home win over a slumping GAC team. Nobody expected the 'Cats to beat UST this last Wednesday night anyway so coming away with a split wasn't a terrible proposition. But now Don Mulhern's squad has a big chance this next week to make a significant move as they go up to CSB on Wednesday night before going over to Macalester next Saturday. Tricky, but not out of the question.......Despite taking it on the chin yesterday to Bethel, you have to admire how the Cobbers were riding a nice little four-game win streak going into that game and although I think realistically that Concordia's likely still a year away from being able to make a significant move upward again, you still have to give Head Coach Jessica Rahman and her staff a lot of credit for bringing this young team along and they'll always play with grit - a Concordia trademark and they'll have a chance to make a statement this week with SMU coming to town on Wednesday night before a trip down to GAC next Saturday.....Speaking of the Gusties, my goodness. Is there possibly a more disappointing team in the conference, maybe the entire upper Midwest, than this group right now? A bad, bad home loss to CSB this last Wednesday night before yesterday's not-so-shocking loss at St. Kate's. For a program that has always made the MIAC Playoffs since its inception back in 2001; for a program that made the fabulous run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season, it's a shocking come-back-to-earth splash of cold water in the face to say the least. I can't bring myself to say that it's completely over for GAC at this point. There's still a LOT of young talent on this team (key word here is YOUNG) but if they're going to keep this streak of MIAC Playoff appearances alive, then this week is where they absolutely MUST make their last stand and reverse this tailspin. And it won't be easy either. A roadie up to Macalester on Wednesday night where the Scots are always tough at Leonard Center before Concordia comes to town next Saturday.
Fire away with thoughts....
Made my way over to Si Melby Hall on this overcast NFC Divisional Playoff Day for my Los Angeles Rams on the campus of Augsburg University to take in this huge MIAC Women's Basketball match-up between visiting and fourth-ranked UST and host Augsburg. Both teams were undefeated in MIAC play and both were sporting solid overall records; 13-1 for UST and 12-2 for Augsburg. The Auggies were coming off a thrilling road win at Bethel on Wednesday night and had won eight out of their last nine games while the Tommies had survived a tough road test in their Friendly Neighborhood rivalry at St. Kate's on Wednesday night and had thus far recovered nicely after the setback at Wartburg just before the first of the year. While this game didn't have the same feel as the MIAC Women's Hoops Game of the Century two years ago between UST and GAC, it was still a critical game for both teams and arguably the biggest game for this Augsburg program to this date and if they could snag a win today, you could make the argument that Head Coach Ted Riverso's team had officially arrived.
The Auggies in fact did get off to a decent start in this one thanks in large part to senior guard Camille McCoy as one short jumper off the glass at the 8:34 mark and another one at the 7:15 mark had the home team up 4-3 and one free throw by junior forward Camryn Speese at the 5:48 mark expanded that lead to 5-3. UST, however, soon dug in their heels defensively and took over this game. Sophomore guard/forward Kaia Porter banged home a "3" from the left wing area at the 5:24 mark to propel the Tommies back out in front 6-5. One free throw by junior guard Sarah Krynski with 4:01 left and two more by sophomore reserve guard Macy Hatlestad grew that lead to 9-5 which still wasn't necessarily all that problematic for the Auggies but when UST senior guard Lucia Renikoff made a hard drive for a lay-up with 1:44 left that also drew a foul and allowed the former Minneapolis Washburn standout to sink the obligatory free throw, Augsburg was now looking at a seven-point deficit at 12-5 and that deficit grew to nine points when Hatlestad deftly snared a steal and dashed the other way for a lay-up with 1:18 left in the first period. The Auggies trimmed the deficit back to seven points when junior reserve guard Aiza Wilson made a hard drive for a finish with :38 left at 14-7 but then UST's Hatlestad would unleash a dagger "3" from the right wing area with :13 left that now had the Tommie lead at ten points at 17-7 and although the Auggies got the deficit back to single-digit range on two McCoy free throws with :05 left in this opening period, it was obvious that the Tommie gameplan was jump on Augsburg early and take away their up-tempo transition game and make them play half-court ball instead.
The Auggies spirits got a bit of an uplift when junior guard Kaezha Wubben was able to snare an offensive rebound for a putback at the 8:57 mark of the second period that cut the deficit down to six points at 17-11 but UST quickly went back to work to make that space larger again. Two free throws by senior All-American post Hannah Spaulding at the 8:41 mark got the lead back to eight points at 19-11 and a three-point dagger by senior guard Kaylie Brazil at the 8:01 mark had the Tommie safety net back in double-digit range at 22-11. Augsburg managed to cut into this cushion again as one free throw by strong junior guard Tamira McLemore at the 7:31 mark and a lay-up by speedy junior guard Ari Jones at the 5:08 mark had the deficit back down to eight points at 22-14 but the Auggies situation was more complicated by this point as McLemore was now saddled with two fouls. This forced the former Eagan standout to play a bit more cautiously on defense and UST jumped on this situation. Freshman reserve guard Mia Krogseng got one free throw to go down after getting fouled with 4:20 left and a pretty one-handed short jumper by Spaulding with 2:37 left had the lead back up in double-digit range again at 25-14. With 1:06 left, Porter made a hard drive for a finish to give the Tommies their biggest lead thus far at 27-14 and although Augsburg's Wubben was able to trim the deficit down to eleven at 27-16 with her drive and lay-up with :48 left, you could just detect how down the Auggies were given the fact that UST had set the tone with their defense as both teams headed to the locker room for the halftime break. A check of the first half box score revealed some pretty grim numbers for Augsburg's Riverso and his staff: 6-23 from FG range for 26.1% and 0-9 for downtown. Throw in the fact that the Tommies also held a 17-13 advantage on the boards as well only made this situation more dire. And not that UST was necessarily shooting the lights out either. They were 8-19 from FG range for 42.1% and 4-13 from three-point range for 30.8%. It was just that the Tommie defense had taken Augsburg completely out of their comfort zone.
The Tommies managed to put Augsburg in a bigger hole in the opening moments of the third period as well. Brazil knocked down a jumper from the right corner inside the arc at the 9:27 mark and although the Auggies' McLemore would drain a "3" from the left wing area off of an inbounds pass at the 8:50 mark, that was negated when UST's Porter drained a "3" of her own from the right top area at the 7:01 mark that had the Tommies up 32-19. It was here where Augsburg was finally able to mount significant resistance and put together a 7-2 run that finally offered a glimmer of hope for the partisan Auggie crowd in Si Melby Hall. Although Speese had to take a seat after picking up her third foul at the 5:45 mark, Wilson would get sent to the line after getting fouled behind the arc at the 5:16 mark and although she could get only one free throw to go down, it was something of a spark. McLemore would bury a "3" from the right wing area with 3:58 left that had the deficit down to eleven points at 34-23 and when Wilson was able to bang home a "3" from the left wing off the glass as the shot clock was expiring with 3:08 left, there was genuine excitement buzzing amongst the Auggie faithful that now reduced the deficit down to eight points at 34-23. But when UST appeared most vulnerable, they calmly righted the ship and went back to work. Spaulding knocked down a jumper from the free throw line with 2:09 left and a pretty one-handed short jumper in the lane by Porter with 1:21 left had the cushion back to twelve points at 38-26. Then the wily Renikoff would deliver a heart-breaking three-point bomb from the left wing area with :44 left in this third period that made it a fifteen-point game at 41-26 and although the Auggies' Wubben would get one free throw to go down with :30.1 left, it was apparent that the wind had quickly gone out of Augsburg's sail again.
To their credit, the Auggies attempted an early push in the opening moments of the fourth period as a Jones lay-up at the 9:39 mark and a short jumper by sophomore reserve forward Jazmyn Solseth at the 7:56 mark had the deficit down to ten points at 41-31 and perhaps offered up one last ray of hope for Augsburg on this day. But those hopes were quickly snuffed out for good as the Tommies clamped down on defense again and got key scores to leave no doubt as to how this one was going to turn out. A Spaulding score in the paint at the 7:00 mark got the lead back to twelve points at 43-31 and then Brazil was able to turn on the jets for a quick move and a lay-up at the 5:34 mark that also drew a foul and the ensuing "and one" by the former Norwood-Young America standout had the lead back to fifteen points at 46-31. Augsburg's Speese would try to counter as she connected with a lay-up with 3:22 left but a little more than a minute later with 2:17 left Speese would collect her fifth and final foul of the afternoon that choked off what little hope the Auggies may have had left. Porter would drop one insurance free throw with 1:59 left and a Spaulding drive and finish with 1:00 left for good measure made it game, set and match UST by a 49-34 count that was not as close as the score indicated.
I knew that the final box score numbers had to be pretty miserable for Augsburg's Riverso and his staff afteward but until I actually got a glance of them from someone nearby in the stands on his phone, I had no idea the numbers were that daunting. Consider: UST's defense on this day held Augsburg to 12-51 from FG range for 23.5% and 3-18 from behind the arc for a pedestrian 16.7%. I think the number that got me more than anything else was that the Auggies were only 7-15 from the charity stripe on this day for 46.7% and I posed this thought to Auggie Assistant Coach and former Minnesota standout Jackie Voigt afterward and she was in quick agreement that, although this item alone maybe wouldn't have changed the outcome itself, it still left a significant amount of points on the table that, at the very least, would have changed the complexion of things and strategy down the stretch. Voigt lamented that the Auggies simply never got their "mojo" going with their transition game that normally leads to easy points and it was easy to see how out of sync Augsburg looked on this day as they were pretty much relegated to playing the half-court game; something that is simply not their strong suit. Indeed, UST did not let the Auggies have ANY fast break points on this day at all and the Tommies also held a 33-28 advantage on the boards as well; limiting those "second chance" points. UST Head Coach Ruth Sinn offered up that this game definitely had an NCAA Tournament "feel" to it and she was proud with how her team responded. I brought up the fact that it was her team's defense that really set the tone in this contest early and that I thought her squad did a good job of protecting the "rock" on this day. "Yes and no" Sinn countered. She explained that her squad had a bit of an iffy moment in that third period when Augsburg was able to make a bit of a run to get the deficit down to single digits but she was able to get her squad calmed down and refocused and then they went on a run to take control of this one for good. Enhancing UST's effort on this day was that they had a very balanced scoring attack. Porter led the way with her 11 points and Spaulding was right behind with 10 points while Renikoff, Brazil and Hatlestad were right behind with nine, eight and seven points, respectively. It was just a rough day at the office against a very, very good team for the Auggies on this day and it was McLemore who led the way on this day with her seven points. One other item took me a bit by surprise on this day: Sophomore reserve guard Nicole Zielsforf, who provided a big spark for the Auggies in the first half on Wednesday night against Bethel with her timely three-point shooting, curiously did not get into the game until late in the contest when the issue was already decided. The Auggies needed a spark like this desperately on this day and they simply didn't get it when they needed it.
Friday, January 11, 2019
Made my way back over to Robertson Center on the campus of Bethel University on this cold January night to take in this huge MIAC women's matchup between visiting Augsburg and host Bethel. Despite losing a non-conference game to Trinity at home just before Christmas break, the Auggies were arguably on a roll; undefeated in the conference at 6-0 and had already handed Bethel an earlier defeat in the friendly confines of Si Melby Hall back on November 28. The Royals meanwhile were on something of a hot streak themselves as they were coming into this contest on a six-game win streak including a 65-64 win over ninth-ranked George Fox on the road so this team's confidence was sky high - and rightfully so - coming into this all-important MIAC clash to try and keep pace with UST.
Scoring would come at an absolute premium in the first six minutes of the opening period. After Augsburg senior guard Camille McCoy connected with a jumper from the free throw line at the 9:41 mark and Bethel junior forward muscled into the paint for a score at the 9:18 mark for a 2-2 deadlock, defense then ruled the day as each side saw several opportunities gobbled up, swatted or stolen away and you could tell right away that the tone was being set for an incredibly physical game. The Royals finally ended this impasse when Taite Anderson drained a "3" from the left corner with 4:05 left but that was met and matched by Augsburg junior reserve sharp-shooting guard Aiza Wilson when she delivered a bomb from the right wing area with 3:39 left to forge a 5-5 game. The Auggies would reclaim the lead when fellow junior guard Kaezha Wubben connected with a lay-up with 3:15 left at 7-5 but Bethel would come right back to tie the game at 7-all when sophomore reserve forward Elizabeth Schwarz snared an offensive rebound for a putback with 2:52 left. Augsburg would nudge their nose out in front again with Wubben was able to knock down one free throw after getting fouled in a transition opportunity with 2:19 left but the Royals would snatch it right back when sophomore reserve guard Michaela Craigan made a pretty drive along the left baseline and got a finish off the glass with 1:48 left to make it 9-8 Bethel and the back-and-forth ebb and flow so far along with the intense and physical play was a sign of the craziness to come in this one.
The Royals' immediate hopes seemed to take a hit at the 9:25 mark when Taite Anderson was whistled with her second foul of the evening and with the former White Bear Lake standout having to take a seat on the pine for the time being, Bethel could have stalled. Instead, they hunkered down and went on a 6-0 push. Two Schwarz freebies after she was fouled at the 9:04 mark and a lay-up by freshman reserve guard Tessah Anderson at the 8:24 mark had the Royals up 13-8. That lead grew to 15-8 when willowy senior post Hannah Johnson connected with a lay-up at the 7:50 mark and Bethel appeared to be in firm control. The Auggies, however, decided to crash this little pre-victory party with unabashed flair and aplomb. Two Wubben free throws at the 7:34 mark reduced the deficit to five points and two more by speedy junior guard Ari Jones at the 7:13 mark not only cut the deficit down to a single possession at 15-12 but now Augsburg was in the bonus as well. Then an unheralded Auggie stepped up to the spotlight - sophomore reserve guard Nicole Zielsdorf - and she calmly dropped two huge three-point bombs: One from the left wing area at the 6:11 mark to tie the game at 15 and the other from the right wing area at the 5:15 mark that pushed Augsburg ahead 18-17. Zielsdorf would also get sent to the charity stripe with 4:44 left where she was able to knock down two free throws as well to get the lead to 20-17 before the Royals could catch their collective breaths and sail the ship out of these rough waters. Schwarz would maneuver into the paint for a score with 4:33 left that cut the deficit to one point and was also the start of a 9-0 Bethel push. Junior guard Haylee Barker connected with a lay-up with 4:00 left to give the home team a 21-20 lead and some thirty seconds later with 3:31 left, sophomore guard Bella Williams connected with a lay-up as well and drew a foul in the process and her ensuing "and one" pushed the lead to 24-20. With 2:49 left, Schwarz would strike again on the offensive end with an offensive rebound for a putback to make it 26-20 and Auggie Head Coach Ted Riverso; fearing that perhaps some of the sail had gone out on his squad, call for a thirty-second timeout to try and reverse the trend. That stoppage seemed to give Augsburg a bit of a lift as Zielsdorf struck again from three-point land - this time from the right wing area with 2:29 left to pull Augsburg back to within a single possession down 26-23 and a McCoy lay-up with 1:52 kept the Auggies in that three-point range down 28-25. Bethel would seek to widen the gap again as Williams would connect with a lay-up with :59 left and two Johnson freebies with :20.9 left had the Royal lead at 32-25. Augsburg's Wubben would trim the deficit down to five point with her lay-up with :11 left but Bethel certainly seemed to have the momentum and the answers as the teams headed to the locker room for the halftime break. And a check of the first half box score certainly indicates that the Royals had every reason to feel good about themselves at the halftime break. Despite going only 1-8 from downtown in the first half, they shot 13-27 from FG range for 48.1% and were 5-5 from the charity stripe. Augsburg meanwhile struggled some shooting only 8-24 from FG range for 33.3% and were only marginally better from behind the arc going 4-9 for 44.4% and Zielsdorf arguably bailed the Auggies out of a potential hole in that second period. Bethel also held a sizable edge on the boards at 18-12 and even though both teams suffered their share of turnovers thanks to some tough defense, it sure seemed as if Bethel had the upper hand at this point.
In fact, Augsburg's hopes initially appeared to sink in the opening moments of the third period when McCoy made a drive into the lane at the 9:04 mark and, although she was able to get a finish out of it that cut the deficit down to three points at 32-29, the former Park Center standout was down on the floor and had to be helped off with an apparent ankle or knee injury. That setback, however, didn't seem to bother the Auggies too much as they came out much more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Junior forward Camryn Speese; held scoreless in the first half, got into the books for the first time on this night when she connected with a lay-up at the 8:19 mark and also drew a foul in the process and her obligatory free throw had this game tied up at 32-all. Bethel's Tessah Anderson got her team back out in front when she uncorked a "3" from the right corner at the 8:11 mark but Augsburg was quick to reply as another Auggie held scoreless in the first half; junior guard Tamira McLemore, finally got untracked as she connected with a lay-up in transition at the 8:00 mark and Wubben followed that up with a drive along the right baseline and finish at the 7:17 mark that put the visitors up 36-35. Now the Royals rose to this challenge as Taite Anderson got one free throw to go down after getting fouled at the 6:57 mark and a graceful short, one-handed jumper by Johnson at the 6:07 mark pushed Bethel back out in front 38-36. The craziness continued as Augsburg's McLemore proceeded to bury a "3" from the right wing area at the 5:43 mark that gave the Auggies a 39-38 lead but the Royals would answer this when Tessah Anderson connected with a jumper in the lane at the 5:29 mark to give Bethel the lead back at 40-39. But the big difference that finally gave Augsburg the upper hand that they had been seeking throughout the night came shortly thereafter thanks to both Wilson and Jones. With 4:21 left, Wilson banged home a "3" from the top of the key to put the Auggies back out in front by a 42-40 count and after Bethel came up empty on their ensuing possession, Augsburg's Jones' made them pay dearly for that as she unleashed a three-point bomb of her own from the right top area with 3:57 left and Royals Head Coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer; sensing a danger point, called a timeout to try and get his troops calmed down as they were now on the wrong end of a 45-40 ballgame. Still, the Auggies got the lead stretched to seven points when McLemore was sent to the charity stripe after getting fouled with 3:04 left and her two free throws made it 47-40 before Bethel could cut into the deficit a bit on one free throw by Taite Anderson with 2:49 left and a Taite Anderson lay-up with 1:17 left that had the deficit down to four points at 47-43. The Auggies' Wilson would manage to sink one free throw after getting fouled with :55.8 left in this bizarre third period and although the 48-43 score certainly wasn't insurmountable, the momentum pendulum had clearly swung in favor of Augsburg.
Even though the Auggies stretched the lead to seven points again early on in the fourth period when Speese connected with a short jumper at the 9:39 mark at 50-43, Bethel by no means was out of this thing. Taite Anderson would connect with a lay-up at the 9:24 mark and sophomore forward Makenna Pearson made a hard drive along the right baseline for a finish at the 8:50 mark that got the Royals back in business down a single possession at 50-47. Although Pearson would foul out of the contest at the 8:13 mark, Bethel certainly was not giving up the fight. Down 52-47, Schwarz would connect with a lay-up in transition at the 7:41 mark to pull the Royals back to within a single possession down 52-49. Augsburg's McLemore would deliver another demoralizing blow when she buried a "3" from the right wing area at the 7:25 mark to make it 55-49 but again Bethel would attempt another comeback bid. Taite Anderson would drop two free throws after getting fouled at the 7:03 mark and when Barker banged home a "3" from the left top area at the 6:32 mark, the Royals had now cut the deficit down to a single scant point at 55-54 with a mountain of time left and no one among the partisan Bethel contingent in Robertson Center doubted that the home team counted complete the comeback. Strangely enough, this is where the Royals' comeback hopes started to crumble. Augsburg's Jones' would get sent to the charity stripe twice where she would drop pairs of free throws - once at the 6:06 mark and again at the 5:27 mark - that got the lead back to five points at 59-54 but the biggest blow came courtesy of Wilson and after the Auggies forced a turnover, the former DeLaSalle standout got an open look from the left wing area behind the arc and she promptly unleashed a dagger "3" that expanded the Augsburg lead to eight points at 62-54 and you could almost feel the last air of hope go out of Robertson Center as the Auggie bench was now rightfully jubilant while a frantic Herbrechtsmeyer called timeout knowing his squad was now in dire straits. But things would only worsen for the Royals down the stretch. Augsburg's Jones would unleash another "3" - this one from the right wing area with 4:25 left - that now had the Auggies up double-digits at 65-55 and Speese would connect with a lay-up in transition with 3:09 left that also drew a foul and her ensuing "and one" got the lead to 68-56. The Royals had one last wisp of hope as Johnson would get one free throw to go down with 2:53 left and Barker was able to slyly snare a steal and dash the other way for a lay-up with 2:30 left that had the deficit back in single-digit range at 68-59. After forcing a stop on the other end, Bethel got another lift from Barker when she was able to sneak into the paint for a score with 1:42 left that had the deficit down to seven points at 68-61. Herbrechtsmeyer would call a timeout to set up strategy and less than ten seconds later it appeared as another door might have opened for the Royals when Williams had apparently snared a steal on Augsburg's Jones. The officials, however, determined that Williams had actually committed a foul instead; much to the chagrin of the Bethel contingent. That effectively snuffed out the Royals' last hope and the Auggies set out to close this one out once and for all. Jones would drop the two obligatory free throws with 1:35 left and Speese would get one to go down with :50.6 left to make it 71-63. Bethel's Barker would connect with a lay-up with :42 left but now all the Royals could do was foul and Augsburg continued with their closeout. McLemore would get one free throw to go down with :40.5 left as would Jones with :29.6 left. McLemore would get one more insurance free throw with :06.5 left and the Auggies escaped Robertson Center with a huge 74-67 road win.
The first thing I said to Bethel's Herbrechtsmeyer afterward when I caught up with him was, "Herbie, you gave up too many '3's tonight" and he was in quick agreement. Foul trouble and some other things had forced Herbrechtsmeyer and his staff to gamble a bit on defense at times as they tried some zone defense in some stretches but the Auggies obviously made them pay in spades for that. Herbrechtsmeyer wouldn't elaborate on the health of his squad or certain players but did say that "We weren't 100% tonight." Augsburg's Riverso had enough time to get calmed down after such a big win but it was hard for him to hide his smile on this night. After congratulating him on the win, I asked him how big this win was going into the big tilt at home on Saturday against UST. The overriding theme from Riverso was that these are unchartered waters for his players and he's not even sure how they'll respond come Saturday. The thing I couldn't help but point out to him was that I was so impressed how his squad came out much more aggressive at the beginning of the third period and they took the battle to the Royals. I think it's safe to say that UST will be favored against Augsburg on Saturday. But I'll also say this: If the Auggies can consistently play like they did tonight - particularly like they did in the second half - they're going to be awfully tough for anyone to beat. One thing that made it so tough for the Royals tonight is that they had to guard four different Augsburg players who wound up with double figures tonight. Jones' 15 points led the way but McLemore was right behind with 14 points (and all of those 14 points came in the second half). Zielsdorf surprised everyone finishing with 11 points tonight while Wilson had 10 points. Another surprise came on the Bethel side as it was Schwarz leading all scorers with her 16 points while Taite Anderson was right behind with 15 points and Barker had 13 points. Bethel did finish the night with a big advantage on the boards but that seemed to be negated by the fact that the Royals also committed 26 turnovers on this night. Bethel also had a big advantage in points in the paint by a 46-22 count. But again, the one big thing is that the Royals allowed Augsburg to shoot 6-8 from downtown for 75% in the second half alone and for a team that prides itself on its defense, this was a killer. One other item stands out to me as well: Bethel shot only 7-12 from the charity stripe in the second half for 58.33% and while that alone didn't necessarily cost them the game, it still left some crucial points on the table that could have, at the very least, changed the complexion of things.
Sunday, January 6, 2019
Well, it's the first Sunday in January so you know what that means. It's time to reveal my first power rankings in the MIAC for this 2018-19 season and there's some interesting developments thus far along with some things that still need to shake out a bit.
5. (tie) GAC & SMU
6. (tie) St. Kate's & Concordia
8. St. Olaf
While I don't think there's too much debate about who should be at the top spot as the Tommies handily took care of both GAC and Hamline this last week, there's still probably some concern that lingers after the twenty-point loss they absorbed down in Waverly, IA just before the first of the year at the hands of Wartburg. So while UST has the top spot - for now anyway - it's not necessarily a sure thing that they'll be able to keep it. And one team that would certainly like to take it away from them is Augsburg and the Auggies got two big road wins this last week - at CSB on Wednesday night and then at SMU yesterday. Now comes the big test for Ted Riverso's squad - at Bethel this Wednesday night and then at said UST next Saturday. We should know a lot more about the Auggies and their chances a week from now. I toyed with the idea of putting Bethel alongside Augsburg in that second spot - I think they're certainly deserving anyway. Consider: The Royals have now won six in a row - including a huge win on the road just before the first of the year to ninth-ranked George Fox. Certainly a win such as that can pay big dividends down the road if Bethel manages to keep this up. As I said, this match-up Wednesday night at Robertson Center between the Royals and said Augsburg team is going to be huge for both.
You get beyond the first three teams and then it becomes a real crapshoot. I had to look at each team, draw sticks and play rock, paper and scissors in trying to sort this mess out and I'm still not 100% sure if I like what I came up with but I put the Pipers in the fourth spot (my God, have I EVER had Hamline THAT high before?). I can forgive the loss yesterday at UST; I don't think anyone realistically had the Pipers winning that one but this is a team that has won four out of its five last games including that heart-stopping win this last Wednesday night over SMU when junior Kaeli Stayer drained a "3" at the buzzer (damn, I STILL kick myself for not going over there that night :p). Head Coach Alex Focke just has this young team playing better and while I don't know if they can keep this up, if they can show some consistency they're definitely going to be the most-feared team in the league. GAC recovered from their annual pounding at the hands of UST as they did similar to Carleton down in Northfield yesterday but it's becoming clearer and clearer that this Gustie team has simply lost too many pieces from last year's squad that made the amazing run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament and though they're not necessarily in a bad spot right now, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to hold their positioning. Meanwhile, down the River and the CP Rail River Sub in Winona, it was an absolute disaster of a week for SMU and new Head Coach David Foley as they suffered that buzzer-beating loss at Hamline on Wednesday night and then got popped at home by Augsburg yesterday. Fortunately for the Cardinals, this next week looks much more manageable as both cellar-dwellers Carleton and Macalester come to town on Wednesday night and Saturday, respectively. But then again, we all know how incredibly dangerous it is to count wins on paper.
St. Kate's came away with a split this last week; winning down at Carleton this last week before losing a tough one at Bethel yesterday. The thing of it is, the 'Cats can likely best hope for a split this next week as mighty UST pays a visit to Butler Center on Wednesday night to renew the friendly Neighborhood Rivalry and then the Wildcats host GAC this next Saturday. I view this next Saturday's game with GAC as critical for both teams but especially for St. Kate's. Meanwhile, you have to admire the progress this young Concordia team is making as they've won three straight including a big road win at St. Olaf yesterday. This week could be a rather bumpy ride for the Cobbers, however, as they have a huge home game with Hamline on Wednesday night before Bethel makes the journey on U.S. Highway 10 and the BNSF Staples Sub mainline to pay a call on Saturday. For a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year, this year has been nothing short of utter disappointment for CSB thus far and they had to hold on for dear life at Macalester yesterday to at least come away with a split this last week. And things aren't going to be easy for the Blazers this next week as they visit GAC on Wednesday night and then host St. Olaf next Saturday.
After leaving Bethel's Robertson Center, I made the short run over to University of Northwestern's Ericksen Center for a big UMAC tilt between visiting St. Scholastica and host Northwestern. I got settled into Ericksen Center with just :45.8 left in the opening period with the Northwestern leading 17-14.
Despite being only ahead by one possession, the Eagles set out to increase their lead once the second period got underway and a "3" from the right wing area by freshman point guard Kelsea Lund at the 9:24 mark was certainly a step in the right direction as it increased Northwestern's lead to 20-14. The Saints would cut the deficit to four points on a lay-up by senior guard Michala Walther at the 9:10 mark but two Eagle scores - a lay-up in transition by junior forward Rio Landers at the 8:21 mark and two free throws by freshman reserve guard Brooklyn DeKam at the 7:40 mark - increased Northwestern's lead to eight at 24-16. St. Scholastica would try to counter as a jumper from the right wing area by sophomore guard Kaylee Kennedy with 4:17 left got the deficit back to six at 24-18 but then the Eagles would respond as sophomore guard Jordan Sauve drained a "3" from the right corner with 3:49 left to get the home team's lead to nine at 27-18. The Saints would reduce the deficit to six points again as Walther banged home a "3" from the right wing area with 3:29 left but then Northwestern would get their first double-digit lead of the afternoon as sophomore forward Miranda Crenshaw connected with a lay-up with 2:07 left and a short jumper by Landers with 1:23 left made it a 31-21 ballgame. The Saints would manage to crawl back into single digits when senior forward Mariah Pearson connected with a lay-up with :39 left but St. Scholastica was still staring at an eight-point deficit of 31-23 as both teams headed to the locker room for the halftime break. A check of the first half box score reveals that Saints Head Coach Stacy Deadrick likely had a lot of concerns on her mind as her team shot only 10-35 from FG range for 28.6% and was a woeful 2-16 from downtown for 12.5%. Northwestern was somewhat better as they went 11-27 from FG range for 40.7% and perhaps just as important were 7-8 from the charity stripe so far for 87.5%. And the Eagles also had the advantage on the boards by a 23-18 count.
Any hopes of the St. Scholastica faithful in attendance on this day of getting close again were quickly dashed in the opening minutes of the third period as the Eagles quickly padded their lead. A lay-up in transition by Landers at the 9:39 mark and a "3" by Lund from the right top area at the 9:01 mark suddenly made it a 36-23 ballgame and the Saints' Deadrick was clamoring for a thirty-second timeout to try and fix the leaks. St. Scholastica senior guard Danielle Cieluch did drop one free throw after getting fouled at the 8:36 mark but the wheels kept coming off for the Saints as Northwestern kept growing the lead. Lund would uncork another three-point dagger; this one from the right wing area at the 7:52 mark and DeKam would unleash a three-point bomb of her own from the left corner to make it 42-24 Eagles and St. Scholastica's Deadrick was soon calling for another thirty-second timeout in hopes of some quick patchwork. But a 7-2 Eagle push only widened the gap. DeKam would drop one free throw at the 5:38 mark and then Landers maneuvered into the paint for a score that also drew a foul and her ensuing "and one" grew the lead to 46-24. Sophomore reserve guard Courtney Schmidt then drained a "3" from the left wing area with 3:59 left to make it a 49-26 game. The Saints tried desperately to close this gap as Walther would get two free throws to go down with with 3:55 left and Pearson was able to get into the paint for a score off of an inbounds pass with 3:10 left. Junior forward Taylor Nowling would get one free throw to go down after getting fouled with 1:12 left and would also knock down a jumper from the left elbow area off of an inbounds pass with :47 left in the third period but down 51-33, any hopes of a real comeback were quickly going out the window and a steal and lay-up the other way by Northwestern's Sauve with just :10 left only fed that notion with the Eagles holding a cozy 53-33 lead going into the fourth period.
A 14-2 Eagle run over the first five and a half minutes of the fourth period effectively put the daisy on this game. Senior guard Amy Berglund knocked down a jumper from the right wing area at the 9:07 mark and one free throw by Landers at the 8:00 mark made it 56-33. Lund would drain another trey - this one coming from the left corner at the 7:16 mark - that bulged the lead to 59-35. Crenshaw got into the paint for a score at the 6:55 mark and then Lund would uncork another back-breaking "3" - this one from the right top area at the 5:04 mark - to make it 64-35 and then Landers would connect with a short turnaround jumper and drew a foul in the process and her obligatory free throw with 4:30 left now gave Northwestern an insurmountable 67-35 advantage. This gave Eagle Head Coach Aaron Kahl a chance to unload his bench to give his reserves some valuable game experience and it also gave St. Scholastica a chance to bite into this sizable cushion down the stretch as well. Kennedy would get two free throws to go down with 4:08 left and an offensive rebound and putback by freshman forward Emma Schmidt with 3:47 left got the deficit down a bit at 67-39. Kennedy would get two more free throws to go down with 3:06 left and Cieluch would connect with a lay-up with 1:37 left. Emma Schmidt would also bang home a "3" from the left corner with :23 left but Northwestern still had a resounding 69-46 victory at the end.
I managed to catch up a bit with Northwestern's Kahl afterward who was feeling good after this latest win and rightfully so. The Eagles have now won six of their last seven games and I think Kahl believes that his squad is finally beginning to figure a few things out; particularly with being able to get a split on their trip to California right before Christmas break. A big test awaits the Eagles, however, as they must travel up to UW-Superior on Wednesday to take on the Yellowjackets who are no doubt smarting after absorbing their first conference loss to Bethany Lutheran yesterday. Maybe Northwestern's only 7-7 overall but more importantly they're currently 4-1 in UMAC play. It was a solid day for Landers as she led the Northwestern attack with 23 points and 16 points for a "double-double" and Lund was lights out from behind the arc and she finished with 15 points. Emma Schmidt was the only Saint in double figures scoring-wise with her 11 points. Turnovers evened themselves out on this day as both teams were guilty of 15 but St. Scholastica's Deadrick and her staff could likely only wince when they saw the numbers on the final box score - 16-61 from FG range for 26.2% and a dismal 3-24 from three-point land for 12.5%. And given that they had to face that trademark 2-3 "match-up" zone defense of the Eagles, that's likely one area where Deadrick had counted on to stay competitive in this game and it didn't happen for them.
Made my way over to Robertson Center on the campus of Bethel Univeristy on this sunny and unseasonably mild early January Saturday to take in this important clash between visiting St. Kat'es and host Bethel. The Wildcats were coming into this contest with a so-so 6-6 record but had started off the New Year on the right foot by getting a convincing road win at Carleton on Wednesday night. The Royals meanwhile were coming into this game on something of a hot streak with five straight victories; most importantly a huge 65-64 road win over #9 George Fox just before the first of the year and, like St. Kate's also got a convincing road win in Northfield as well by beating St. Olaf.
On paper anyway, this looked like a relatively easy win for Bethel in the friendly confines of Robertson Center but it would be the 'Cats coming out and setting the tone early on in the opening period. Senior point guard Audra Clark was able to get an easy lay-up in transition off the opening tip at the 9:55 mark for a quick 2-0 lead and although Royals senior post Hannah Johnson would tie the contest with her short jumper off of an inbounds pass at the 9:19 mark, St. Kate's would respond as junior guard Jackie Radford connected with a lay-up at the 8:57 mark and flashy fellow junior guard Danica Cambrice connected with a lay-up in transition at the 8:33 mark for a 6-2 Wildcat lead. Bethel would cut the deficit to one point when Hannah Johnson connected with a lay-up and drew a foul in the process and the ensuing "and one" by the former Duluth East standout made it a 6-5 game. St. Kate's freshman Taylor Johnson would come back on the subsequent 'Cat possession and drain a "3" from the left wing area at the 7:50 mark to make it a 9-5 game before the Royals could cut into the deficit again. Junior forward Taite Anderson snared an offensive rebound and got a lay-up out of it at the 7:21 mark and sophomore forward Makenna Pearson was able to snare an offensive rebound of her own for a putback at the 6:52 mark to make it 9-all. Taite Anderson would get a score in the paint at the 6:19 mark to get the game tied again at 11-all and sophomore reserve forward Elizabeth Schwarz got into the paint as well for a score at the 5:42 mark to give Bethel their first lead of the afternoon at 13-11. The Wildcats would come right back and reclaim the lead when Radford made a hard drive and connected with a lay-up and drew a foul in the process and her ensuing "and one" made it a 14-13 game. The Royals would reclaim the lead at 15-14 on a score in the paint by freshman reserve guard Tessah Anderson with 4:59 left and then both teams would endure a bit of a dry spell for the next couple of minutes before a flurry of scores ended this first period. A Cambrice lay-up with 2:46 left propelled St. Kate's back into the lead at 16-15 and the Royals took it right back on a short jumper off of an inbounds pass by Hannah Johnson. Freshman forward Sam Orth gave the Wildcats the lead again with her lay-up with 2:13 left at 18-17 and two free throws by freshman reserve guard Mackenzie Kurczek with 1:42 left helped grow the lead to 20-17. Bethel junior point guard Haylee Barker would drop two free throws after getting fouled with 1:29 left to cut the deficit to one point and one more free throw by Taite Anderson with 1:07 left knotted this game at 20 and that's what it looked like it would be going into the second period but the Wildcats got the last stab of this opening period when Clark; the former Kenyon-Wanamingo standout, wheeled and dealed on the last possession and snuck into the lane for a pretty turnaround jumper with :04 left that gave St. Kate's the lead back at 22-20.
Despite Clark's heroics at the end of the opening period, the Royals grabbed the upper hand in the early moments of the second period. Barker drained a "3" from the top of the key when she was left alone at the 9:09 mark and then Taite Anderson connected with a lay-up off of an inbounds pass and drew a foul in the process and her ensuing "and one" at the 8:38 mark pushed Bethel's lead to 26-22. The Wildcats would close the gap to two points when Orth connected with a lay-up at the 7:46 mark but St. Kate's immediate hopes seemed to take a bit of a hit when Radford collected her second foul of the afternoon on a charge call and Head Coach Don Mulhern had no choice but to sit the former Cretin-Derham Hall standout. The 'Cats would cut the deficit down to a scant point when Orth knocked down one free throw at the 6:44 mark but Bethel would make a bid to open up some more space for themselves. Tessah Anderson got into the paint for a score at the 6:25 mark and a short, one-handed jumper along the left baseline by Pearson at the 5:40 mark gave the Royals a 30-26 lead. Sophomore guard Bella Williams helped grow that lead to six points when she snare a long rebound and got a lay-up out of it with 4:12 left to make it 32-26. Williams would connect with a lay-up again with 3:06 left to make it 34-27 and one free throw by sophomore reserve guard Michaela Craigan with 1:06 left got the lead to eight points at 35-27. Then Williams would come through again for Bethel with still another lay-up with :45 left that now gave the home team their first double-digit lead at 37-27 before the Wildcats could offer up some resistance. Freshman reserve guard Lauren Isaacson banged home a "3" from the right corner with :30 left and although the Royals' Williams would collect another score in the paint with :11 left, St. Kate's would get one last dagger before the halftime break when Cambrice nailed a jumper from the right corner just inside the arc with just a tenth of a second before the halftime buzzer as both teams retreated to the locker room for the halftime festivities. A check of the first half box score shows that Bethel had an edge in the rebounding department by a 23-17 count and had only eight turnovers to St. Kate's 12. Neither team was necessarily setting the world on fire with their shooting with the Royals going 16-38 for for 42.1% from FG range and the 'Cats going 12-29 for 41.4% from the same area. Moreover, Bethel shot a woeful 1-10 from downtown so Head Coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer and his staff had some tinkering to do during the halftime break.
Bethel looked like they were on their way to establishing some separation in the early moments of the third period as Pearson was able to connect with a lay-up in transition after a steal at the 8:40 mark and a short shot by Barker at the 7:50 mark re-established an earlier double-digit lead at 43-32. But the Wildcats were quick to respond as the athletic Cambrice was able to snare an offensive rebound of her own miss at the 7:32 mark for a putback and drew a foul in the process and her obligatory free throw had St. Kate's back in single-digit range down 43-35. An Orth lay-up at the 6:51 mark cut the deficit to six points at 43-37 and a little more than a minute later Cambrice would connect with a jumper from the right corner just inside the arc at the 5:39 mark that suddenly had the deficit down to four points at 43-39 and the Royals' Herbrechtsmeyer; not liking at all how his team was playing defense, took a match to a timeout to discuss things with his team. Bethel's Tessah Anderson established a bit more breathing room for her team with a jumper from the right wing with 4:47 left that made it 45-39 but the 'Cats showed they weren't going anywhere anytime soon as Isaacson banged home her second three-point bomb of the afternoon from the right wing area with 3:25 left to get St. Kate's back to within a single possession down 45-42 and one free throw by freshman reserve post Katie Benjamin with :32.2 left cut the deficit down to two points at 45-43 and there was definitely an unsettling feeling amongst the Bethel contingent as things headed to the fourth period.
After the Royals' Taite Anderson connected with a lay-up at the 9:18 mark of the fourth period to make it a 47-43 game, St. Kate's managed to crawl back to single-possession range again as the wily Clark was able to snare a steal and race the other way for a lay-up at the 8:48 mark to cut the deficit down to two points at 47-45 and two free throws by Orth at the 7:41 mark kept the Wildcats lurking down only 50-47. But just when you thought that the pesky 'Cats would find a way to climb over the top at the most crucial time, a missed shot here or a small mistake there would keep them from pulling off a huge upset on this day. Bethel's Pearson would come up huge for her team when she nailed a "3" from the right top area at the 7:30 mark to expand the lead to six points at 53-47 and one Taite Anderson freebie after she was fouled at the 5:56 mark kept the Royals up two possessions at 54-49. St. Kate's would suffer a costly turnover and just ten seconds later Pearson would strike again from three-point land with a bomb from the left corner that now had the lead at eight points at 57-49. The Wildcats were able to trim the deficit to six points with 4:37 left when Orth connected with a short jumper from the left side and Mulhern would subsequently call a timeout to set up strategy for down the stretch but at this juncture a comeback would simply be a bridge too far on this day. Bethel's Taite Anderson would knock down one free throw after getting fouled with 3:27 left and with 2:02 left Hannah Johnson would deliver a fatal blow to the 'Cats when she was able to connect with a jumper in the lane off of an inbounds pass with 2:02 left that made it 60-51 and two Hannah Johnson charity stripe shots with 1:24 left maintained the nine-point edge at 62-53. St. Kate's would get one last score with Benjamin connected with a lay-up with :58 left but another timeout called by Mulhern shortly thereafter only delayed the inevitable. The Royals' Barker would drop two insurance free throws with :49.1 left and Bethel's win streak increased to six games with a 64-55 victory.
Despite the loss, I thought St. Kate's did a good job with their 2-3 "match-up" zone defense on this day that Mulhern utilized and, at least in the half-court, they managed to neutralize Hannah Johnson's effectiveness. On the other hand, where Hannah Johnson was most effective on this day was with scores off inbounds passes that the Wildcats were unable to prevent. If you took away some missed easy shots and lay-ups; some missed free throws and a few other mistakes, I would say that you likely would have been looking at a much, much different game in the last couple of minutes. And those are the things that the Wildcats need to get better at. St. Kate's Mulhern was in full agreement with that assessment when I caught up with him afterward and he could only think about what might have been. Bethel's Herbrechtsmeyer told me afterward that he knew that this was going to be a tough game for his squad today; no walk in the park for sure and when things were tight early on in the fourth period, I think the confidence they have in themselves - particularly from that big win over George Fox on the road - really showed itself down the stretch. They made the plays they needed to make when they needed to make them. I know that UST supporters may differ but I don't think there's a team in the MIAC that defends better than Bethel. Everything the Royals do starts with their defense and if they can maintain this level, they'll certainly give themselves a fighting chance for bigger things down the road. The Wildcats shooting percentage slumped in the second half and they finished going 20-55 from FG range for 36.4% and 3-9 from downtown for 33.3% but I think a lot of that can be contributed to Bethel's defense as well. Bethel owned the boards by a 44-37 count and 22 turnovers by the 'Cats did not help their cause on this day either plus the fact that the Royals had a 17-12 edge in points off of those turnovers. And Bethel had a 14-9 edge in those all-important "second-chance" points as well. St. Kate's had a relatively balanced scoring attack on this day with Orth's 12 points leading the way while Cambrice followed up with 11 points. Despite being guarded heavily down low, Bethel's Hannah Johnson still found a way to help lead her team to victory on this day and she led the way with 14 points while both Pearson and Taite Anderson were right behind with 12 points.
Made the short run over to Park Center High School on this unusually mild early January Friday evening to take in this important Northwest Suburban Conference clash between visiting Centennial and host Park Center. Undoubtedly both the Cougars and the Pirates wanted to start 2019 off right and solidify their standing in their respective divisions of the conference as well. Naturally I expected a very tough, tightly contested game.
One thing I did not count on - at least from a Centennial standpoint anyway - was a big piece of the puzzle missing for the Cougars in senior post Sara Stapleton who is currently out with an injury. Her presence down low is an important part for the Centennial attack but this didn't seem to bother the Cougars too much; at least in the early going anyway. Senior forward/post Sarah Lavell got things going for Centennial as she snared an offensive rebound of her own miss for a putback at the 17:24 mark of the first half and one free throw by senior guard Mady Sanders at the 16:50 mark had Centennial up 3-0. The Pirates would tie the game on a "3" from the left corner by diminutive junior guard Aaliyah Ragulen from the left corner at the 16:45 mark and would take a 5-3 lead when flashy sophomore guard/forward Adalia McKenzie connected with a lay-up at the 15:40 mark. The Cougars would tie the game at 5-all on a Lavell score in the paint at the 15:21 mark and a Lavell offensive rebound and putback in transition at the 14:11 mark had things knotted at 7-all. Park Center would snare the lead back when McKenzie got a lay-up in transition after a steal at the 13:26 mark but the Cougars would not be fazed and responded with a 6-0 push. Two Lavell lay-ups - one at the 12:38 mark and another at the 12:06 mark - put Centennial back in front 11-9 and a score in the paint by senior reserve forward/post Cate Flynn at the 11:43 mark gave the Cougars a 13-9 lead. Park Center would get things tied at 13 on two McKenzie free throws at the 11:21 mark and a jumper from the right wing by McKenzie at the 11:01 mark but Centennial pushed in front again as junior guard Grace Johnson unleashed a "3" from the right wing area at the 10:44 mark to make it 16-13 and a Flynn lay-up at the 9:31 mark maintained the three-point edge at 18-15. A Sanders score in the paint with 8:35 left now had the Cougars up 20-15 and sophomore guard/forward Jodi Anderson had a chance to further that lead when she was sent to the charity stripe with 8:08 left but she couldn't cash in on either free throw attempt. Whether this took some of the wind out of the Centennial sail is up for debate but the Pirates certainly saw an opening and they quickly closed in on the gap. Ragulen connected with a jumper from the left elbow area with 7:46 left and a short running jumper off the glass by junior guard Kayla Cox with 7:14 left had the deficit down to one point at 20-19. Park Center reclaimed the lead on a short running jumper by Cox with 6:01 left at 21-20 but the Cougars would take it back when Lavell got into the paint for a score with 5:38 left. Then a flurry of three-pointers ensued. The Pirates' McKenzie would drain one from the right wing with 5:30 left and then Centennial senior guard Taylor McAulay got one to go down from the right wing area with 5:04 left. Park Center's Cox was next with her bomb from the left wing area with 4:40 left that gave the home team a 26-25 lead but the Cougars would take it right back on two McAulay freebies with 4:30 left. Park Center junior guard Lauren Frost would be sent to the charity stripe with 4:24 left where she dropped to free throws to put the Pirates back out in front 28-27 and another Cox "3" - this one from the right top area with 3:54 left - now had Park Center up 31-27. That lead expanded to seven points when sophomore reserve guard/forward Chloe Cink connected with a jumper from the left wing area with 3:27 left to make it 34-27 and a "3" from the left corner by lanky sophomore forward T'Naye Griffin with 2:29 left maintained the seven-point edge at 36-29. A McKenzie lay-up with 2:03 left did the same to make it 38-31 and a Griffin lay-up with 1:32 left grew the lead to nine points at 40-31. The Cougars' McAulay would drop two free throws after getting fouled with 1:18 left but Park Center's McKenzie would add one of her own with :17.5 left as the Pirates took a 41-33 lead into the locker room at the half.
Centennial managed to close the gap to five points when McAulay drained one of her patented lefty three-point bombs from the left corner at the 17:12 mark of the second half and a short jumper by Sanders at the 16:12 mark kept the Cougars in that five-point range down 43-38. But things quickly started falling apart for Centennial over the next three and a half minutes. The Pirates' McKenzie would connect with a lay-up in transition at the 15:33 mark as would Griffin at the 15:06 mark to make it a 47-38 game. A Frost lay-up at the 13:24 mark maintained the nine-point edge at 49-40 and then Griffin drained a dagger "3" from the right wing area at the 12:56 mark to complete this key 9-2 run for a 52-40 lead and Cougar Head Coach Jill Becken felt compelled to take a timeout now down by double digits. The stoppage in play got Centennial calmed down a bit and they managed to take a bite out of the deficit. Sanders would uncork a "3" from the left wing area at the 12:01 mark and a Sanders lay-up at the 11:43 mark gave the Cougars a bit of hope again down seven at 52-45. But those renewed hopes quickly faded when Park Center mounted another offensive. Griffin would make a drive and finish at the 11:33 mark and a Griffin lay-up in transition at the 10:38 mark got the Pirate safety net back to double-digit range at 57-45. McKenzie would strike off of an inbounds pass with a drive into the lane and finish with 8:38 left and a Griffin lay-up with 8:04 left maintained the twelve-point edge at 61-49. Then Frost was able to race down the court in transition with 7:51 left for a lay-up and a drive and finish by Griffin with 7:23 left now had the lead at sixteen points at 65-49. The Cougars attempted to cut into this deficit again as a Lavell lay-up with 6:58 left and a short shot off the glass by Lavell with 6:00 left had the deficit down to 13 points at 66-53 but the idea of a full-fledged comeback at this point was synonymous with trying to bail a sinking boat on an angry Lake Superior. For good measure, Park Center's Frost would drill a "3" from the left top area with 5:29 left to make it a 69-53 game and McKenzie would knock down two free throws after getting fouled with 4:45 left for a 71-55 lead. A short jumper by McKenzie with 4:25 left and a drive and finish by Frost with 3:09 left made it 75-56 and everything after that was pretty much academic. Centennial would get three late scores after Pirate Head Coach Barb Metcalf emptied her bench. Senior reserve forward Annika Holmstrom got a lay-up in transition with 2:32 left and Flynn would add one free throw with 1:01 left along with a lay-up with :33 left but Park Center still scored a solid 75-61 win.
While I have no idea how long Stapleton will be out of action, there's no question that they miss her presence down low. Fortunately for Becken and her staff, Lavell has certainly stepped up to the plate and has shown her willingness to shoulder the load down in the paint. For Park Center, I think this was an important win over a quality opponent and while they still have issues with defense in the half court and boxing out, I do think they are taking significant steps forward and there's absolutely no question that their speed and sheer athleticism that allows them to play an up-tempo game make them an unusually tough match-up for most opponents. How much that means in terms of Northwest Suburban Conference title hopes and Section 5AAAA play/state tournament hopes remains to be seen. Speaking of Centennial's Lavell, she led the way for the Cougars on this night with her 24 points while Johnson added 11 points and Sanders had 10 points. Park Center's McKenzie led all scorers with her 26 points while Frost had 13 points and Cox had 10.