Wildcat women split games on conference road trip

Austin Svehla, Staff Writer

The Wayne State women’s basketball team is coming off a 1-1 weekend road trip, falling to Sioux Falls in South Dakota last Friday, before defeating Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday in Marshall, Minnesota. The weekend split brought the Wildcats’ record to 9-5 on the season.

Things started off well for the Wildcats on Friday against Sioux Falls, as WSC built a 13-7 lead with 2:22 remaining in the first quarter. The Cougars cut into the Wildcat lead toward the end of the opening quarter, as the Wildcats saw their last lead of the game at 14-12. USF scored the final four points of the quarter to take a 16-14 advantage into the second period.

“We came out really good in that first quarter,” Pollari said. “We played with them or were at least as good as they were.”

Wayne State kept it close throughout the start of the second quarter, as the Wildcats trailed 27-23 at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter. From there, the Cougars exploded for a 17-0 run to gain a 44-23 lead to close out the half.

“Three of the four quarters were one or two-point differences in the quarter,” Pollari said. “About the last four minutes of the second quarter, they got us to play their style instead of us playing our style. We just didn’t continue to play our style and our system and do what we do.”

The Wildcats were nearly on a seven-minute scoreless streak until sophomore forward Brittany Bongartz scored a layup to break the scoreless spell. Bongartz got the Wildcats within 13 on a three-pointer, but the Wildcats again went basketless for an extended period, failing to score over the next 5:40 to allow the Cougars to extend their lead to 58-39. The Wildcats trailed 64-44 at the end of third quarter, and could not dig themselves out of that hole, falling to the Cougars by a final score of 81-59. The loss dropped WSC to 8-5 on the season.

Bongartz led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points on the evening, followed by sophomore guard Erin Norling with 12 and freshman reserve point guard Kylie Hammer with 11.

The Wildcats were back in action the next day in Marshall, Minnesota, where they came out with a close, hard-fought victory against Southwest Minnesota State for their 19th consecutive victory against the Mustangs.

“Southwest was the hottest team in the conference at that time,” Pollari said. “They had just beaten Augustana, the number one team in the conference, and Sioux Falls by about 20, so to go to their place and get a win was a pretty good win for us. We were able to stick to our system against them.”

After a back-and-forth start saw the Wildcats gain a 9-8 lead, WSC got baskets from Norling, senior point guard Maggie Lowe, Hammer, and senior forward Andrea Larson to take their largest lead of the game at 17-8. The Wildcats found themselves with a 21-17 advantage at the end of the first.

The Mustangs scored the first six points of the second quarter to take a 23-21 lead and extended that lead to 39-32 with 2:34 remaining in the half. The Wildcats responded with a 10-0 run to end the half, including two three-pointers from sophomore guard Halley Busse in the final 49 seconds to give WSC a 42-39 lead.

Neither team gained more than a five-point advantage the rest of the way, as Busse drained two free throws with 3:02 left in the third to give the Wildcats a 60-55 lead. Busse again scored a clutch basket for WSC, nailing a jumper at the end of the quarter to give the Wildcats a 64-61 advantage.

SMSU jumped went on a 5-0 run to start the final quarter to take a 66-64 lead. Bongartz answered for the Wildcats, hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game at 66 apiece, then completing a three-point play to put the ’Cats in front, 69-66. With under two minutes to play, SMSU tied the game at 74-74 on a three-pointer. The Wildcats’ winning basket came from Lowe on a layup with 33 seconds remaining, putting WSC in front, 76-74, the eventual final score. After that, the Wildcats buckled down defensively to close out the narrow victory. The win improved Wayne State to 9-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference play.

Norling led WSC in scoring with 18 points, while Busse had 17 and Hammer had 12. Bongartz notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“We’ve been battling injuries and I don’t know if we’ve had a practice where we’ve gone up and down more than once or twice in the last month and a half, two months,” Pollari said. “We’re hanging in there and trying to get people healthy and I think we’re doing pretty well considering everything right now. That doesn’t mean we’re happy with where we are; we are going to keep improving and getting better every day.”

The Wildcats return to action this weekend at home, as they take on Winona State on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. and Upper Iowa on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

“[We need to improve on] just tightening up on defense and rebounding,” Pollari said.