The Gustavus women’s basketball team slipped past St. Thomas 66-56 on Wednesday and in the process clinched at least a share of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Title with one game yet to play. That game happens to be against second place St. Ben’s in St. Joseph on Saturday afternoon and the Gusties could claim the program’s first ever outright title with a victory. Against the Tommies, Gustavus got a big performance from senior forward Julia Schultz, who started in place of leading scorer Molly Mathiowetz who was out with the flu. Schultz scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds as she logged 35 important minutes for the Gusties.
Balanced scoring was a key for Gustavus as four players reached double figures including Molly Geske, who led all scorers with 17, Bri Radtke with 14, Schultz with 12, and Abby Rothenbuehler with 11. With Mathiowetz out and Layman battling foul trouble for most of the game, Rothenbuehler played 18 valuable minutes, while contributing 11 points and five rebounds.
Neither team shot very well as Gustavus was 23-of-56 for 41.1 percent from the field, while St. Thomas was 20-of-48 for 41.7 percent. The second half was significantly better, however as the Gusties made 56.0 percent of their shots in the final 20 minutes (14-25), while the Tommies made 53.8 percent (14-of-26).
Neither team was able to pull away in the first half as turnovers and cold shooting kept the score low. The Gusties led 22-19 with 4:48 left to play and then outscored the Tommies 5-0 the rest of the half to take a 27-19 lead into the locker room at the intermission. Gustavus limited the Tommies leading scorer Rachel Booth (16.1 ppg) to two points in the first half.
Early in the second half, Gustavus used a 4-0 run to push the lead to 10 at 31-21, but St. Thomas came right back and cut the lead to four at 33-29 with 14:22 to play. Another run, this time a 12-3 spurt by the Gusties pushed the lead to 13 points at 45-32 at the 10:53 mark. Trailing 50-37 with 7:37 on the clock, the Tommies used an 8-0 run to cut the lead to five points at 50-45 with 5:32 to play. But once again, Gustavus responded with a 10-2 run over the next two minutes and St. Thomas would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the game. The Gusties were 7-of-7 from the free throw line in the final four minutes of play.
With the win, Gustavus improves to 20-4 overall and reaches the 20-win plateau for the fifth time in the program’s history. The last time was in 2006-07 when the Gusties finished at 22-6 overall. Coach Mickey Haller’s squad also reached 18 league wins for the fifth time in the past nine seasons. Gustavus has now finished first (2), second (1), or third (3) six times in the past eight years.
After Saturday’s regular season finale at St. Ben’s, the Gusties will get a bye in the quarterfinals of the MIAC Playoffs on Monday and host a semifinal game next Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 pm.