Trailing by 15 points at halftime, the Gustavus women’s basketball team rallied at the onset of the second half and cut the St. Thomas lead to two at the midway point. The Gusties kept it close until the 11th-ranked Tommies capitalized on 7-of-10 free throws late in the game for a 66-54 victory in St. Paul on Saturday afternoon for the MIAC Playoff Championship.
Gustavus ends its season with a 20-6 overall record and 17-6 mark in the MIAC. The 20-win season for the Black and Gold marks the sixth time in program history to reach the 20-win plateau, all in head coach Mickey Haller’s tenure. The Toms extend their win streak to 26 games with a 26-1 overall record and complete the perfect season in conference play with a 23-0 mark in the MIAC.
To start the game, Ali Johnson set the tone for St. Thomas with a three-pointer on its second possession. The Tommies scored the game’s first six points before the Gusties replied with five unanswered. Right back at it were the Toms, though, as they scored the next seven points for a 13-5 lead at the 13:38 mark. Gustavus kept the deficit under ten until Johnson sunk another trey with 8:48 left in the half. From that point on, the Tommies outscored the Gusties 16-to-11 and went into halftime with a 38-23 lead.
In a tale of two halves, the Gusties came out firing on all cylinders to begin the second. Gustavus started the half with five unanswered points and a layup by Colleen Ruane at the 15:08 point sparked a 12-to-2 run over the next four minutes and the Gusties then trailed by only two (44-42) at the midway point of the half. The two squads traded blows over the next five minutes and the score sat at 56-53 in favor of St. Thomas with just over five minutes to go, but yet another three by Johnson gave the Tommies the inch of momentum they needed to maintain the lead and hold on for the victory. The Gusties closed out the game missing their last seven shots from the field, while UST sunk 70-percent from the charity stripe in the final 3:27.
“We had a great run in the second,” head coach Mickey Haller said. “We pretty much pressed for twenty minutes and I think that affected them a lot. Our defense really took change and Colleen Ruane in particular did a lot for us in that second half. We won the second half, but we didn’t have too much in the first. We were soft on the boards and needed to rebound better.”
Rebounding played a major factor as the Tommies won the battle of the boards 47-to-29. Maggie Weiers was their dominant force on the blocks collecting a game-high 19 rebounds as well as a game-high 18 points. Sarah Smith and Ali Johnson also tallied double digits for the Toms with 16 and 11 points, respectively.
Kelsey Florian led the Gusties off the bench with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the floor, while Ruane and Molly Geske chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Abby Rothenbuehler hauled in a team-high nine boards. Ruane also finished the game with four steals for a season total of 83, breaking the previous program record of 80 (Jess Vadnais 2007-08) for steals in a season.
“I thought it was a great season,” Haller acknowledged. “This group of young women that comprise our entire team are just amazing. Of course we wanted to do more, but we can’t give up the fact that it was a terrific season, a twenty-win season no matter how you look at it, finishing second in the conference. These girls don’t give up, they don’t quit and I think this season will dictate how they will walk out of this college.”