The Gustavus women’s basketball team saw an opportunity at a shared Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title slip away Saturday afternoon with a 70-60 home loss to the College of Saint Benedict.
Following an even first eight minutes, the Blazers took control with a 15-2 run midway through the first half turning an 18-15 deficit with 11:49 to play in the first half into a 30-20 lead with 4:29 remaining. Junior post Bri Monahan (Jr., Hutchinson, Minn.) registered the only Gustie points during the stretch, with a lay-up at the 8:38 mark. Monahan scored six of Gustavus’ final eight points to cut the Blazer lead to eight points at 36-28 at intermission.
The Gusties outscored the Blazers 6-2 in the first 1:23 of the second half, but Saint Ben’s responded with eight straight points to take a 14-point lead with 15:02 to play. Gustavus made a frantic charge over the next two minutes to pull within two points at 46-44. Monahan scored six of the 12 Gustavus points on a three-pointer, a lay-up and a free throw. Sophomore Jess Vadnais (Hudson, Wis.) capped off the run with another three-pointer.
The run would be short-lived, though, as the Blazers responded with a 10-3 run to move the lead back to nine points with just under five minutes to play. The Gusties would make one more short run cut the lead to five points at 56-51, but a jumper by Nikki Carter with 3:35 to play put Saint Ben’s back up by seven points.
Anna Heikenen scored the Blazers’ final field goal with 1:58 remaining to put Saint Ben’s up nine points at 60-51, with the final ten Blazer points coming from the free throw line.
Junior post Bri Monahan led all players with 27 points, including 15 in the first half, but the Blazers had four players in double-figures including Anna Heikenen with 17. Monahan finished the game 8-of-13 from the field and 9-of-9 from the charity stripe. She also pulled down a game-high seven rebounds. Vadnais added 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 from behind the three-point line.
In addition to Heikenen, Jen Dalhed (13 pts.), Katie Kempe (10 pts.) and Ariel Tauer (10 pts.) finished in double figures. Darby Noreen added five points, a team-high three assists and two steals, while Jaime Goehner added a team-high six rebounds.
The difference in the game could possibly be found at the free throw line. Ashley Raymo (Worthington, Minn.) was the only other Gustie to attempt a free throw in the game, making two of four. Saint Ben’s converted 20 of 24 free throw opportunities.
With the win, the Blazers (21-4 overall) capture the MIAC title with a 17-3 record and a first-round bye in the MIAC Playoffs. Gustavus (18-6 overall) finishes with a 15-5 league record and the third seed. The Gusties will host sixth-seeded Bethel Monday night in St. Peter.