Winona, Minn. – The Gustavus Adolphus women’s basketball team saw its 2012-13 season come to an end with a 76-69 loss to Saint Mary’s University on Tuesday night in the opening round of the MIAC Playoffs. Despite a strong start and a 45-36 lead at halftime, the Gusties couldn’t keep the surging Cardinals at bay in the final 20 minutes. Saint Mary’s took its first lead of the game at the 5:13 mark of the second half and would not relinquish it for the remainder of the contest.
“We were the better team for 30 minutes, but unfortunately it’s a 40-minute game and you have to be able to play a complete game to come away with a win in the playoffs,” said Head Coach Laurie Kelly. “A lot can happen over ten minutes and you have to give Saint Mary’s credit for battling back. They had a lot of energy and fed off the momentum of the crowd in the final stages. It was a good playoff environment, but it makes it even harder knowing we were in control for so long.”
With the win, the Cardinals advance to the semifinals of the MIAC Playoffs and will face St. Thomas at 7:30 p.m. in St. Paul on Thursday, Feb. 21. Saint Mary’s improves to 22-4 overall, while Gustavus ends its season at 15-11.
After the three-hour bus ride from St. Peter to Winona, the Gusties got off to the start they were looking for. A layup by Abby Rothenbuehler (Sr., North Mankato, Minn.) at the 17:49 mark of the first half put Gustavus on top 8-0. Rothenbuehler scored six of the team’s first eight points and would go on to finish the half with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field.
“Our game plan going in worked very well to start. We got the looks we wanted and shot 63-percent in the first half,” said Kelly. “We were aggressive on the boards and were able to convert on our chances around the rim.”
After Gustavus went up 11-2 a minute later on a three-pointer by Kelsey Florian (Sr., Roseville, Minn.), the Cardinals began to find their scoring – cutting the lead to five points (13-8) by the 14:27 mark. With the lead cut to three (19-16) at 10:26, Gustavus scored five straight to go up 24-16 with 8:21 on the clock.
Gustavus’ lead lingered in the high single digits over the remainder of the first half. The Gusties’ largest lead of the half was nine points, which they attained four times within the last four minutes. Driving down the right lane with time dwindling on the shot clock, Julia Dysthe (Jr., White Bear Lake, Minn.) converted on a layup and was fouled in the process. She made the free toss to give the Black and Gold a 45-36 advantage at the break.
Along with Rothenbuehler’s 14 first half points, Dysthe followed next in line with 11 after going 5-for-7 from the field. Gustavus shot a hot 63.3-percent from the floor as a team, going 2-for-3 from three-point range and 5-for-7 at the free throw line.
Saint Mary’s shot 39.3-percent from the field and was led in scoring by Courtney Euerle and Jamie Stefely who both had eight points.
The Gusties kicked off the second half much like they did the first. After a 5-0 run, they were on top 50-34 with 18:21 left to play. Saint Mary’s responded to the fast start with an 8-1 run to cut the margin down to seven (51-44) with 14:51 remaining. A three-pointer by Stephanie Comer (Sr., Minnetonka, Minn.) less than a minute later put the Gusties back up by double figures at 54-44. Unfortunately for Gustavus, the Comer three also signified the start of a Cardinal run that would be the difference in the game.
Following a 12-2 scoring run that spanned over four minutes, Saint Mary’s had battled back to tie the game at 56-56. After trading points, the score was tied at 58-58 with 8:31 on the clock. Gustavus would be stuck on 58 points until the 4:48 mark, by which time a pair of free throws by Rothenbuehler cut what was now a Saint Mary’s lead to 63-60.
Despite cutting the advantage to one point on two occasions in the final four minutes, the Cardinals answered with a basket on the ensuing possession both times. A 10-0 Saint Mary’s run in a two-minute, 45-second time-span was the back-breaker, as Gustavus trailed 75-64 with :29 seconds left.
“Saint Mary’s did an outstanding job turning up its defense in the second half,” commented Kelly. “They got in our face and we didn’t handle the pressure. We turned the ball over and because of that they were able to get to the rim on transition. The biggest stat that stands out tonight, aside from our turnovers, is free throws. It’s hard to beat a team that scores 32 points from the line.”
As Kelly stated, turnovers and free throws were the difference in the second half, as Saint Mary’s forced 13 Gustavus turnovers and went 19-23 at the charity stripe. In the game, the Cardinals scored 22 points off of the Gusties’ 23 turnovers and finished 32-for-37 (86.5%) at the line.
Abby Rothenbuehler, who got into in foul trouble early, finished with a game-high 18 points after scoring four in the second half. She went 5-for-8 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 at the line while bringing down six rebounds. Steph Comer scored 13 points after going 5-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-4 from three. Julia Dysthe added 11 points (5-11), and Mia Sandstrom (Sr., Chanhassen, Minn.) had 10 (5-7).
“Abby Rothenbuehler and Mia Sandstrom were both great tonight,” said Kelly. “For someone who has come off the bench virtually the entire year, Mia was aggressive and was able to pick up the slack for us. Although she was in foul trouble, Abby was solid on both ends of the floor – rebounding, scoring, and taking care of the ball all game.”
As a team, Gustavus went 25-for-55 (47.3%) from the field, 5-for-10 (50%) from three, and 12-for-15 (80%) at the line. Saint Mary’s finished 21-for-56 (37.5%) from the floor and 2-for-11 (18.2%) from beyond the arc.