After a dismal first half, the Gustavus women’s basketball team kicked off the rust from a three-week break to defeat St. Olaf 62-48 Monday night in St. Peter, Minn. The Gusties improve to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in MIAC action with their fourth consecutive conference victory, while the Oles fall to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in league play.
The first half wasn’t pretty for either team as the Gusties turned the ball over 16 times, while the Oles committed 13 giveaways. Gustavus shot only 24.0-percent (6-of-25) from the field in the first 20 minutes for 17 points. It wasn’t much better for the visitors as St. Olaf converted 6-of-20 shots (30.0-percent) for 23 points and a six-point lead at the break. The Oles finished the first with all the momentum, though, with a 10-1 run in the final six minutes.
“We talked about finishing at both ends,” Gustavus Head Coach Mickey Haller acknowledged when talking to her players at halftime. “We had sixteen turnovers in the first, so we were getting a turnover and giving the ball right back. So at half we decided that our number one priority was to take care of the ball. Our defense played well but it doesn’t help when you score only seventeen in the first twenty minutes.”
Senior captain Molly Geske gave the momentum back to the Gusties right away in the second by sinking a three-pointer just :05 seconds into the frame. The Mendota Heights, Minn. native then went on a tear, scoring 10 of the next 12 points for Gustavus, giving her team a 32-26 lead at the 15:18 mark. Kelsey Florian and Abby Rothenbuehler tacked on two points each over the ensuing minute to give the Gusties a 10-point lead (36-26) and a 19-to-3 run.
“We wanted to start the second with a play to Molly and I told her, ‘if the three is there, take it,’ and she responded,” Haller said. “ She continued to put the ball in the net so we rode her hot hand. And she needs to do that. She’s not our only scorer but other players look to her to make that kind of effort and when she starts doing that it’s like a domino effect for the rest of the team.”
St. Olaf cut the deficit to five at 51-46 with 3:08 remaining on a layup by Nikki Frogner, but Florian replied with a trey on the other end of the court to put the Gusties up eight. The Black and Gold finished the final three minutes with an 11-2 advantage to hold on for the 62-48 decision. In the second half, the Gusties shot 68.2-percent (15-for-22), improving their first half mark by over 44-percent.
Geske led all scorers with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and converted 6-of-8 from the charity stripe. Florian continued to pose a threat off the bench with 13 points on 3-of-8 shooting and a flawless 6-for-6 from the line. She also led the Gusties with eight rebounds.
Mackenzie Wolter led the Oles with 12 points, while Frogner and Elise Raney also contributed double-digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Next up for Gustavus is a road test at Saint Mary’s University on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.