Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Big Game 1-25-12: A Night on Snelling Avenue

It was a rare weeknight MIAC double-header, but not the usual kind. The St. Olaf women and men both played at Macalester tonight. But the undefeated St. Thomas women (13-0 in the MIAC before tonight's game) were also nearby, and seemed to be a more attractive option than the Macalester men with their one lonely win (1-11). So after watching the Macalester-St. Olaf women at 5:30 p.m., I high-tailed it up to the Hutton Arena at Hamline, about 10 minutes away for the Hamline-St. Thomas women's game at 7:30.

Macalester took an early lead over St, Olaf, then hung on for dear life 59-50 as a result of holding the Oles to the ridiculous FG percentage of 24. St. Thomas clobbered Hamline 76-53 in the 2nd game, and it really was nowhere near that close,

Macalester 59 St. Olaf 50

The host Scots led the Oles by as many as 16 points at 40-24 at 17:20 of the 2nd half. But the Oles ripped off a 17-6 run to get within 5 at 46-41 and still 10 minutes left to play. Then St. Olaf didn't score for over 5 minutes by which time the lead was back up to 9.

The Scots opened with an 11-2 lead as 5 different players scored, and the Oles made just 1 of their first 11 shots. 6 minutes later it was 22-8 as 6-foot senior post Holly Schiedermayer and 5-9 senior guard Shannon Rene each scored for a 2nd and a 3rd time. Rene hit a trio of long FG, 2 of them for 3 points, while Schiedermayer was very active in the paint and scored on a pair of FG and a pair of FT. Rene and Schiedermayer each assisted on 1 of the other's buckets, too.

The Scots finished the 1st half shooting 43 percent while St. Olaf shot just 21 percent. In the 2nd half, the Oles got back into the game because Macalester went into the deep freeze, too. The Scots shot just 19 percent in the 2nd half while the Oles shot 26 percent.

The Oles made their move when 6-2 freshman post Nikki Frogner checked into the game. She made a pair of FT at 16:21 to cut the Scots lead to 40-28. She scored off the offensive glass at 14:30 to make it 41-30, and another bucket off an over-the-top feed from Brittany Weber at about 13:00 made it 44-35. Finally she scored off a classic pick-and-roll from Mackenzie Wolter at 10:45 to make it 46-39.

Wolter then scored to make it 46-41 but that's as close as the Oles could get. Macalester went 6 minutes without a FG but made 7-of-8 FT. Their next bucket, a layup by Maggie Wood on a feed from Schiedermayer at 3:42, made it 55-45.

Schiedermayer out-scored the Oles' posts, Erin Haglund and Frogner, 19-8, and she also contributed 6 boards, 3 blocks and 2 assists. She got to the FT line 14 times, making 9. Her teammates made another 11-of-15 FT for a total of 20-of-29, while the Oles made just 13. The FG were even at 17 apiece.

The Scots starting guards shot 9-for-22 and the Oles just 5-for-28. Rene was the only guard hitting her shot at 5-of-7. But the fact is that there was terrific guard play. The shots wouldn't fall, but much of the Oles success this year owes to Mackenzie Wolter and Kirstee Rotty, while Shannon and Jessica Rene are solid for Macalester. Shannon Rene scored 14, while Wolter and Sheridan Blanford scored 11 each for St. Olaf but made only 6-of-29 FG between them.

St. Thomas 76 Hamline 53

Meanwhile, up the road at Hamline's Hutton Center, St. Thomas stuck it to the Pipers 76-53 in a game that was not that close. Hamline led 7-6 and stayed close through about 22-15, depending on your definition of close. But suddenly it was 35-17, then 44-27 at the half. The largest lead was 37 at 68-31 at 12:42 and 70-33 at 10:34. Hamline scored 9 in a row and had a 23-9 advantage over the last 10 minutes for a more respectable final score.

This game was like the good old days, when St. Thomas and/or St. Ben's or maybe Concordia would dominate in the MIAC, then compete nationally to the Elite Eight or Final Four or perhaps the final 2. The Cobbers and Tommies each won a national D3 title, as you might recall. But over the past decade there's been unusual parity in the MIAC which, among other things, means that the top teams weren't good enough to compete at the national level.

This St. Thomas team has the look of a team that might break that drought. They have tremendous depth, the basic rotation being 9 deep.

C- Maggie Weiers, 6-2, soph., 24 minutes, 12 pts, 8 reb, 3 assists; the #1 player
PF- Sarah Smith, 6-foot, sr., 22 min., 11 pts., 4 reb, 4 assists, 3 steals; Haley Loesch, 5-11, sr., 12 min., 2 pts.; Anna Smith, 6-foot, fr., 15 min., 11 pts., 10 boards
PG- Carolyn Dienhart, 5-6, sr., 16 min.; Kellie Ring, 5-5, jr., 17 min., 5 pts.
W- Taylor Young, 5-11, soph., 21 min., 12 pts., 6 reb, 2 steals; #1 scorer on the year; Kelly Brandenburg, 5-9, soph., 20 min., 2 pts, 2 assists
W- Ali Johnson, 5-11, sr., 23 min., 15 pts., 3 reb., 3 assists

7 other players, for a total of 16, played, though only Annessa Hicks and Laura Margarit scored among the other 7. Freshman Jenna Dockter looks like the most likely to contribute over the long term, but she's had foot problems and isn't in game shape.

Bu the main point is not that coach Ruth Sinn can run 9 or 16 players out there, it's that they're productive. On offense, they move the ball, they move without the ball. When somebody breaks open, their teammates get them the ball. You can see them transition seamlessly from their 1st option to their 2nd option and, then, say the shot clock is winding down, to the 3rd option. They're well-organized and well-drilled. Bottom line: They take good shots, and if the shot isn't there, they move the ball some more. They shot 50 percent, and the starting 5 shot 60 percent.

St. Thomas dominated the boards 49-27. When the Tommies missed a shot, Hamline corralled 14 defensive boards while the Tommies grabbed 22 offensive boards. On the Hamline end, St. Thomas had a 27-13 advantage. Actually, those 13 offensive boards for Hamline are undoubtedly more than coach Sinn would like, but almost half were of the "team" variety, balls that bounced out of bounds and were awarded to Hamline.

On defense, the Tommies held Hamline to 35 percent shooting. Still, I don't know if they're a great defensive team. The rest of the Pipers shot just 12-of-41, but an athletic player like Jordan Sammons was able to roam fairly freely and made 7-of-13 shots for 19 points. But there was nobody on the Hamline roster to complement Sammons on the offensive end. The turnovers and blocked shots were both dead even, not what you would expect against a 3-11 opponent.

St. Thomas is an experienced team, starting 3 seniors and 2 sophomores. The seniors--S. Smith, Dienhart, Ali Johnson--are extremely poised, they know what to do. The younger players--Weiers and Young, plus freshman Anna Smith--are more dynamic and, while it's a bit early to be thinking of next year, they make you wonder whether this team will be even better in the future. Ali Johnson and Sarah Smith will be missed, to be sure, but reinforcements are available.

Player of the Day

As much as I love Sarah Smith and Ali Johnson--and Mackenzie Wolter can play on my team any day, too, by the way, despite today's 3-for-15 shooting performance--but aside from all of that, I didn't get to see the player of the day in the MIAC. That would be Brittany Zins of Augsburg who scored a career-high 27 points to go with 9 rebounds and 6 steals as the Auggies edged Bethel 55-52. This on the heels of a 20 point, 12 rebound performance against St. Kate's the other day and I guess you could say that Zins is hot.

Coach of the Day

Mandy Pearson of St. Mary's, which won at St. Ben's for the 1st time since 1986, before any of her current players were even born. Equally importantly, of course, the Cardinals upped their record to 9-5, good for a tie for 3rd place and a spot in the rapidly approaching MIAC playoffs. All this from a team that has won 17 and lost 49 MIAC games the past 3 years.

And Another Thing....

Where's Peter Boyle when you need him? All I could say was "Holy Crap!" when I saw that the Timberwolves had beaten the defending NBA champions in Dallas last night and by the ridiculous score of 105-80. We spoiled the Mav's party, as they handed out their championship rings last night as a special courtesy to T-Wolve J.J. Barea who was an integral part of that championship last year. Of course, returning to the topic of the game itself, Dallas was without Dirk Nowitzki, too (along with Barea), so maybe the Wolves' win could have been foreseen. Not by me. Kevin Love did his usual Superman impression, but then Ricky Rubio played (ah, let me think) Batman (?), playing 46.5 minutes out of 48 and scored 17 points with 12 assists and 7 rebounds. Love's numbers were 31 and 10. Ordinarily, one of those would be player of the day but after spending 5 hours on Snelling Avenue last night, I'm sticking with the MIAC.

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