After a closely contested first half, the Gustavus women’s basketball team pulled away from Saint Mary’s in the second for a 70-56 victory Wednesday night in St. Peter, Minn. The Gusties improve to 18-4 overall and 16-3 in the MIAC, securing at least the No. 3 seed in the MIAC Playoffs and another game at Gus Young Court. The Cardinals fall to 11-11 overall and 11-8 in league play.
Junior forward Abby Rothenbuehler posted a career-high 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor, including a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. The North Mankato, Minn. native also hauled in a game-high nine rebounds. Molly Geske also tallied double digits with 14 points, converting 5-of-7 from the field. The senior captain now has 1,344 career points, which surpasses Angie Peterson (2001-04) for fourth place on Gustavus’ all-time scoring list.
“She was feeling it tonight,” head coach Mickey Haller mentioned of Rothenbuehler’s play. “The only thing she didn’t do was take a charge and I think she would have if she got in position. She made good choices with the ball right away from the get-go. There was no holding Abby back, she had a great game.”
The first half was a back-and-forth battle between the Gusties and Cardinals. The score changed leads twice with three ties in the first three minutes before a three-pointer by Rothenbuehler put the Gusties up 9-6, a lead they never relinquished. Following the trey, Geske put in a pair of free throws for a five-point Gustie lead at the 16:06 mark, their largest of the half. But the Cardinals responded with a three by Sara Schoenthaler and kept the deficit under four for the remainder of the half. At the break, Gustavus led 29-28.
In the first 20 minutes, Gustavus shot 46.2-percent (12-26) from the floor, while the Cardinals shot 45.8-percent (11-24). The Gusties committed 10 turnovers, compared to eight by Saint Mary’s.
“The first half was just a good contest,” Haller mentioned. “They played really well and we had ten turnovers in the first, which doesn’t make us happy, but we came out of that with a one-point lead at the break.”
To start the second half it was all Gustavus. The Gusties quickly scored eight unanswered points with two steals in the first 2:28 before Saint Mary’s scored its first points of the half at the 16:29 mark. Gustavus waived in and out of single- and double-digit leads over the next six minutes until a jumper by Eli Benz sparked a 16-0 run, giving the Gusties a 25-point lead, their largest of the game, with 4:44 to go. During that run, the Black and Gold were a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, including a four-point play after Rothenbuehler sunk a trey and was fouled in the process, where she then made the ensuing free throw.
“What spurred us on to start the second was our full-court pressure.” Halled acknowledged. “Our players wanted to put on that pressure and sometimes you have to let them make that call. They really wanted to go, so we let it happen and it worked out well.”
Gustavus shot 64.0-percent (16-25) in the second half for a 54.9-percent (28-51) rate on the night, marking just the fourth time above 50-percent this season and first time in eight games.
Jamie Stefely led the Cardinals with 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and hauled in four rebounds. Adrianna Stephens posted 10 points off the bench as the only other scorer in double figures.
The Gustie women have three games remaining in the regular season before playoffs begin. They have two more road tests, starting with Macalester on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off against the Scots is set for 3:00 p.m. in St. Paul. Gustavus won game one of the regular season series 71-44 on Jan. 14.
“Macalester has been playing very well lately,” Haller noted. “They feed the post just as good as any other team in the conference. They also get the ball inside out with their three-point shooters, so it’s going to be a tough road test.”