St. Peter, Minn. - The Gustavus Adolphus women's basketball team used its best offensive performance of the season to run away from Saint Mary's University 86-66 on Wednesday night at Gus Young Court. Playing on their home court for just the second time this season, the Gusties jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead and never looked back – shooting a season-best 59.3-percent from the field in the game. Gustavus extends its winning-streak to six games and improves to 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the MIAC with the win. The Cardinals suffer just their second loss of the year and are now 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the MIAC.
"Saint Mary's is a great team with veteran players on the perimeter and in the post," said Head Coach Laurie Kelly. "Coming off such a long break, you are always going to have that feeling of uncertainty. Our start tonight was our best 20 minutes of basketball all season. We came out with a lot of confidence, got great looks offensively, and knocked down shots."
After a back-and-forth opening five minutes of the game, a Stephanie Comer (Sr., Minnetonka, Minn.) three-pointer sparked a 7-0 Gustavus run that put them up 19-12 by the 13:36 mark. From that point forward, the Gusties would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.
Gustavus would build a double-digit lead by the 9:59 mark when a Julia Dysthe (Jr., White Bear Lake, Minn.) layup brought the score to 29-19. With 4:43 remaining in the half, another Dysthe layup sparked a late period surge that saw the Gusties head into the locker room leading 46-30 following an 8-2 run. Four different Gustavus players scored within the run, as Saint Mary's failed to score for an over five minute stretch to close the half.
Comer and Dysthe paced the Gusties in the first half with ten points each, while Abby Rothenbuehler (Sr., North Mankato, Minn.) added nine of her own. Gustavus' 46 first half points and .613 field goal shooting percentage were both season-bests.
Gustavus continued to keep the pressure on through the early minutes of the second half, grabbing its largest lead of the game at 22 points (54-32) following a pair of Kelsey Florian (Sr., Roseville, Minn.) free throws with 16:56 on the clock.
It was with 13 minutes remaining that Saint Mary's began to slowly chip away at the lead. Using a 13-4 run within a five-minute time-span, the Cardinals trailed by 11 points (62-51) after a Jessica Thone three-pointer with 7:40 remaining.
"At one point in the second half they started to turn things around on us," commented Kelly. "We looked sluggish at times and our decision-making wasn't as crisp. Despite that rough patch, I credit our team with a great finish. We did another outstanding job finishing at the end. We took care of the ball, got a few stops, and continued to knock down free throws. That part of our game has been phenomenal so far this year."
Although Saint Mary's would cut the lead to 11 on two more occasions in the next four minutes, it would be as close as the Cardinals would come, as Gustavus put an end to any comeback hopes with stellar free throw shooting down the stretch. The Gusties went 8-for-8 at the charity stripe in the last 5:05 of the game.
Gustavus turned in a second straight stellar shooting performance in the second half, shooting 56.5-percent from the field and 92.9-percent at the free throw line. Karina Schroeder (Fy., Lake Crystal, Minn.) broke out with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting to lead the Gusties in the frame. Stephanie Comer added nine points, and Julia Dysthe scored seven.
By the final buzzer, Gustavus recorded season-highs in points (86), field goals made (32), field goal percentage (.593, 32-54), and three-point field goal percentage (.444, 4-9). The Gusties shot 78.3-percent (18-23) from the free throw line and recorded eight blocked shots.
Comer led the way with a career-best 19 points after going 5-for-9 from the floor, 3-for-5 from three, and 6-for-8 at the stripe. Dysthe and Schroeder finished next in line with 17 points each. Dysthe went 7-for-10 from the field, while Schroeder went 6-for-8 including a 5-for-5 night at the free throw line. Abby Rothenbuehler scored 15 points after going 7-for-11 from the floor and knocking down her one and only three-point attempt. Rothenbuehler and Schroeder both had six rebounds, as Mia Sandstrom (Sr., Chanhassen, Minn.) paced the team with a game-high eight boards. Kelsey Florian rounded out the top Gustavus scorers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
Coach Kelly was pleased in the her team's performance on its home court for just the second time this year. "This is where we practice every day, shoot every day, and for some of these players, this is where they've been for the last four years," Kelly said. "Being at home is a great way to start the new year and gain some confidence. I am a new coach, we are learning a new offense, and we are getting to know our personnel. We've started to get comfortable with one another and the offense – you saw that come together tonight on our home court."
Saint Mary's shot 39.7-percent (25-63) from the field, 25-percent (4-16) from the three-point range, and 85.7-percent (12-14) at the line. Jessica Thone led all scorers in the game with 21 points on 8-of-21 shooting from the field. Jamie Stefely scored 15 points, and Bridget Pethke added 14 to round of the top Cardinal performers.
"We need to keep getting better every night and keep taking one step at a time," said Kelly about Gustavus' upcoming matchup. "Hamline is our next focus and we have to try to be better on Saturday than we were tonight. I really feel like we have gotten better every time out and that is great to see as we head into January."
The Gustavus women's basketball team will play host to Hamline University on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 1:00 p.m. on Gus Young Court.