Spires' teams roll past Tabor in KCAC sweep

It's official: The University of Saint Mary women's basketball team is back in the mix.

After a sluggish first half of the season, the Spires have finally found their groove and Wednesday night at the Ryan Center, they were able to create a 58-point flip of,the script.

Led by a starburst performance by senior Candy De Los Reyes (26 points, nine rebounds) and 11 points each by Janae Barnes and Ashley Hinkle, the Spires (13-10, 10-7) avenged a 46-point loss at Tabor a month ago with an impressive 70-58 win to move into four-way tie for fourth place in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) with five games left to play.

“This is a huge, huge, huge game for us,” De Los Reyes said. “We are now in fourth place after they beat us by almost 50 last game. We came out with some heart and fire and we just gave our all tonight and fought as a team. As a team we are coming together collectively and understanding, we are doing a really good thing right now and want to keep it going. During timeouts and stuff we tell each other ‘Let’s go,’ and we want to get this fifth win in a row and get to fourth place.

“We are still working through things and we aren’t a perfect team - we are still figuring out each other. We are playing more together, talking way more and communication is a real key. The bench cheering us on really helped too.”

The win was the team's fifth straight and they also pulled within a game of second place in the league.

“(After the first meeting) we had to step up our defensive intensity and the kids are buying into it,” USM head coach Bruce Ericsson said. “It's about the same time last year when we went on a 13-game winning streak…we aren’t letting teams run their offense really well. It’s just a team effort. The practices are getting better and we are seeing a lot of good things. It’s just a lot of good senior leadership.

“It was just execution, taking good shots and doing the little things and I thought we rebounded better and we challenged every one of their shooters. They had to fight for every shot so I think our team defense really was a key to it.”

The Spires were anything but daunted early as the recent run of stellar play continued and they finished the first quarter on a 14-0 run to lead 21-7 after 10 minutes. They wrapped the initial stanza on an electrifying triple at the buzzer by Barnes.

USM played fine in the second quarter, but a bit of a drop in intensity and final execution allowed the Bluejays to slowly edge closer to making this game a contested one and ultimately the visitors trailed 32-25 at the break.

The teams traded heavy blows in the third quarter with neither team getting any real edge on the other as USM retained a 49-43 lead going into the final quarter.

Then things got real and the Spires set the bar on who would be in charge.

With patience on offense and a bend-don't-break defense, the Spires built a 13-point lead and forced the Tabor coach to finally resign himself to a seat on his bench instead of lounging around half court as he had all game.

USM men hold on

Well, a win is a win and a big one is doubly important.

The Saint Mary men need to begin a late-season push to move up the KCAC rankings and what better way to start with a win over the Bluejays?

Building a big, early lead, the Spires would hold on for the entirety of this contest and thwart numerous Tabor runs to hold on for a 89-80 win.

USM was led by Demetrius Cady’s 25 points, Reid Titus splashed home 17 points, while Brett Marsh added 15 points in the win.

“I thought we played pretty well and we shot the ball really well in the first half,” USM men’s coach Troy Brown said. “Guys were attacking…we still do some dumb things down the stretch - turnovers and sometimes by guys that have been here for awhile. It’s a game of runs  and we knew that, it happens all the time. We were tough enough to withstand it and hold them off. 

“It’s late in the year and we will take any win and you have to win the ones at home.”

Tabor and USM (12-11, 10-7) entered this contest in a tie for sixth place and for most of first half the Spires dominated play and jumped out to an impressive 37-16 lead in the game's first 15 minutes of play.

However, the team's penchant for relaxing way too early after building a big lead came to the forefront and in two minutes, Tabor (10-13, 9-8) had cut nine points off the deficit.

“We get complacent pretty easy,” Brown said. “We were hitting shots. Some of the other games we wouldn’t hit shots and with the shot clock running down we’d miss them. We did hit stuff and played well down the stretch and hit our free throws. Late in games before we’d give up offensive rebounds and we rebounded pretty well tonight too.”

Ultimately, the Spires got settled back in and took a 43-30 lead at the break.

The second half saw a game of cat-and-mouse as the Spires would keep a double-digit lead, see Tabor pull within a half-dozen or so and then watch Saint Mary hit a vital triple or get to the rim to rebuild the advantage.

That plot remained the same throughout the contest and the Spires would prevail by making the right plays at the best times.

“We have been struggling lately and all games are must wins,” Marsh said. “This one was had an emphasis that this was a must win. We always shoot the ball well at home and that really helped us tonight. Anyway we can get ourselves going is key. We struggled in the second half of home games recently, but I thought we got out it a bit better and matured a little bit tonight.”