Gaining that first conference victory in a home opener is huge for any team, and that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night in St. Peter, Minn. as the Gustavus women’s basketball team defeated Hamline 63-41. The Gusties continued their winning ways with their third-straight victory to improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the MIAC, while the Pipers fall to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in league play.
“I don’t care who you play or where they’re picked to finish, that first home game matched with the first conference win is huge,” Gustavus Head Coach Mickey Haller said.
The game got off to slow start on both ends of the court with the first points of the contest coming off a three-pointer by Molly Geske 3:16 into the first half. Gustavus jumped out to a 7-0 lead five minutes into the first and never looked back. The momentum did swing back-and-forth throughout the first as the Gusties led by ten (13-3) at the 9:11 mark before allowing the Pipers to cut the deficit to four points (15-11) in as many minutes. Haller’s squad used a 13-to-4 run in the final five minutes of the half, taking a 28-16 lead into the locker room.
Coming out of the break, the Gusties started slow and gave up five unanswered points while committing five fouls in the first three minutes. Coach Haller called a 30-second timeout at the 16:56 mark to settle down her players and they responded with a 21-to-5 run over the next seven minutes to lead 49-26 with 9:45 remaining. The Gusties went into cruise control for the remainder of the contest and came away with their first conference victory of the season.
“I told them during that timeout ‘this is it, you either get it done or we’re changing it up,’” Haller stated. “I think we have the players that can get out there and get it done. And there are times as coaches that we need to push our players to that point.”
Kelsey Florian scored a game-and season-high 16 points off the bench for Gustavus, going 5-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from the free throw line. The Roseville, Minn. native also grabbed seven rebounds, added three assists and two steals in 18 minutes of work.
“Kelsey has led us all year long,” Haller acknowledged. “She’s a great passer, she can score, she can play the three or four spot, so we can post her up and we can put her on the wing. We call her Flo. Flo has done so much for our team and she’s a really good leader as well.”
Topping the stat sheet in the rebounding division was Eli Benz with a career-high 13 boards. She also contributed eights points, two assists and two steals.
“Eli had struggled a little in first half but came out in the second fired up and got it done for us,” Haller said. “It doesn’t take much for her to get it going and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
The Gusties continue MIAC action this weekend and into early next week with three road tests. Saturday, the Gusties travel to St. Paul for a match-up with St. Thomas at 6:00 p.m. Next Monday, they head to Northfield for a bout with Carleton and next Wednesday they complete the three-game road series at Augsburg.
“We’re looking forward to the Tommies,” Haller mentioned. “They’re a good team, they’re well coached and this early in the season, it’s a coin flip as to what can happen. They have a target on their back as typically being the top team in the conference, so hopefully we hit that target dead on.”