Saint Mary teams roll to key wins in KCAC play
Winning that becomes contagious is always a good thing, especially when it happens at the end of the season.
For the University of Saint Mary women's basketball team, the last two months of the past couple regular seasons has become akin to a new strain of winning bug.
Wednesday night at the Ryan Center, the Spires recorded a seventh-straight win, overcoming a patchy start to rout Southwestern College 68-50 and move to 15-10 overall and 12-7 in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) play.
With three games remaining, the win clinched a winning record overall and in league play for the second straight year and one season removed from a 13-game winning streak that propelled USM into NAIA national tournament consideration.
This recent win clinched a KCAC Tournament spot USM and the. spires remain in the hunt as a high seed and potential first round host. Also, by virtue of Bethany's 62-44 win at Oklahoma Wesleyan, those two teams and USM are locked in a 3-way tie for second place with three games to go.
USM was led by Janae Barnes and Sienna Brown as each scored 12 points and Kelsey Switzer and Candy De Los Reyes lit up for 10 points apiece.
"We aren't going to take a breather because the things that we need to get better at we did tonight," USM head coach Bruce Erickson said. "We rebounded the ball really well and (Southwestern's) Jordan Miller is such a great player and we held her to 10 (points) and nine (rebounds) - she was the Player of the Week in our conference. I felt that we are getting better and now we are going to work on things we need to improve.
"We have a few too many turnovers and we allowed too many balls going to the basket, but overall I was real pleased where we are at."
So why is the winning streak happening all over again?
"We have good leadership and kids that have been through the battles and understand what we need to do," Erickson said. "That helps us figure things out down the stretch as we have kids that have been through this before."
The Spires forced 24 turnovers and outrebounded the Moundbuilders 50-41.
Southwestern (7-20, 3-16) wasn't going to come and bow down to a hot Spires' team and they went toe-to-toe in the game's first 10 minutes and led throughout before the clubs settled for a 16-all tie.
USM then got it's offense really clicking and started the second quarter on a 13-6 run to go up 29-22 thanks to an array of scoring finishes from outside and at the rim.
The barrage continued for the remainder of the first half and the Spires took a 42-27 lead into the break.
The onslaught didn't stop and maintained itself into the second half as the Spires kept their feet on the pedal and remained in overdrive, leading 58-33 as the defense sent the tone throughout the final 20 minutes.
In the fourth quarter Erickson substituted exponentially, giving a number of
Spires s chance to hit the hardwood and they coasted to the finish line for the easy win.
A team with plenty of veterans has started to figure out how to use their strengths while blending together the talents of newcomers which have played such a huge role in this newest winning journey.
"We are started to get used to each other and finding out what we are good at and our identity," Switzer said. "We got stronger toward the end of last year and I think it's happening again this year. We showed (the new girls) how fast we want to play and how fast we want to go in transition and I think it took them a little bit to catch on to what we want to do. We are playing really good and the way we need to play now."
Spire men set tone in win
Knowing that it's place in the KCAC playoffs was already secure, the USM men entered Wednesday's home contest against KCAC leaders and 12th ranked Southwestern knowing that the difference between second and eighth place was separated by a paper-thin margin.
So all the Spires did is arguably fashion their best performance of the season behind a strong defensive performance and a relentless attack on the tin and that would be enough for a 85-75 win at the Ryan Center.
Demetrius Cady (26 points), Brett Marsh (12 points), Payton Meek (11 points) and Teyvon Lundy (10 points) led the way for USM.
The win moves USM to 14-11 overall and 12-7 in KCAC play and they remain in a quagmire of five teams battling it out for second place in the league.
USM is now tied with Friends for fourth place, a game behind Oklahoma Wesleyan and Kansas Wesleyan who are tied for second, and a game above York and Tabor which are tied for sixth place.
"This was absolutely the best game we’ve played," USM head coach Troy Brown said. "We were locked in from the tip to the final buzzer. We got stops when they are scoring 90 or so points a game and we held them to 75 and that's with two late threes. Everything starts defensively and if you want to be good on offense, you have to be good on defense. Our offense is fueled by our defense and we were locked in. We were running on shooters and rotating on drives. That's what it's all about.
“We put in a new offense which is more controlled and everyone knows what they are doing on offense. Before, right after break, we were giving up those runs because we got stagnant and we weren’t moving and screening. Now we are getting looks and I have guys who can make shots.”
USM won essentially due to being able to come up with a key defensive stop or a big bucket before Southwestern could succeed on more than three uncontested scoring possessions.
Southwestern came into the contest as one of the KCAC's most talented teams, but they were also wounded having lost three straight in league play entering the contest.
USM jumped on the Moundbuilders right out of the gate, taking a 10-1 lead and maintaining a similar lead through most of the first half.
Southwestern made a few rallies to remind the Spires that it is still a league heavy, but the Spires had enough to hold off any serious run and took a 38-31 lead into the intermission.
The USM guests came out of the break with intent and confidence in thinking they could end their recent woes at the Spires' expense and early on, the vibe said anything was possible.
But on this night, the Spires' penchant for giving up leads in bunches would be tested and this time even if they suffered a hiccup or two, they knew how to answer the bell and slowly, they built a consistent 10-13 point lead for a good third of the second half and rolled to the easy win.
“It was a big step because they were 12th ranked in the nation and we lost up there a while ago and we knew we had to get it done,” Cady said. “We are coming together as a group and are more of a brotherhood now that are figuring each other out. Going into the game, our main focus was on defense and we knew if we got stops we’d have a good chance of winning and we just took it from there.”