The St. Thomas women’s basketball team opened MIAC conference play with a 69-60 win over Gustavus Saturday at Schoenecker Arena.
After winning two games in Texas Nov. 26 and 27, the Tommies (3-1 overall) were excited to be back at home.
“Gustavus is one of our biggest rivals,” sophomore forward Taylor Young said. “It’s great to open conference play with a win over the Gusties.”
Senior forward Ali Johnson knows the importance of winning early conference games.
“Since the MIAC is such a competitive conference, every game is a big game,” she said.
St. Thomas opened the game with a basket by sophomore center Maggie Weiers. The Tommies and the Gusties traded baskets back and forth early in the game until Gustavus threw its full-court pressure at St. Thomas.
The Tommies were flustered by the Gusties’ tough defense in the first half, causing several turnovers and easy baskets by senior guard Ava Perry and senior guard Colleen Ruane.
“[The Gusties] were swarming our point guards, and it took us a while to adjust,” Young said. “We just needed more of our ball handlers helping get the ball down the court.”
St. Thomas also added pressure of its own. Near the end of the second half, solid Tommie defense created breakaway layups for sophomore guard Kelly Brandenburg and senior center Sarah Smith.
The Tommies took a 35-25 lead into halftime, and Weiers and Smith combined for 17 of the team’s 35 points.
St. Thomas controlled the second half and was carried by the monster play of Young. She scored 19 of her 21 points in the second half, most of the baskets coming from strong drives to the hoop and getting a couple of “old fashioned” three-point plays.
Young thinks her offensive mentality is simple.
“I always try to drive it as hard as I can so at least I can get to the line,” she said.
The Tommies held a free throw advantage during the second half. They shot 16 of 19 from the line, while Gustavus only shot 12 total free throws.
While St. Thomas held a double digit lead over Gustavus for the majority of the second half, the Gusties made a small run toward the end of the game. Junior forward Kelsey Florian sunk a 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds remaining in the game to bring her team within seven points of the Tommies, but Young sealed the victory with two free throws to end the game.
Johnson is pleased with her team and its ability to have different players step up in big conference games.
“We knew they were going to disrupt our offense, and it was important to see some younger players like Maggie Weiers and Taylor Young come up big,” she said.
However, as one of the four seniors on the team, Johnson also believes that her experience will benefit the team, and hopefully the promising younger players will learn from her.
“We have a lot of really talented young players, but senior leadership is very important too,” she said.
The Tommies continue their conference play against Hamline at home Monday, Dec. 5.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.