Sweet Sixteenth: No. 16 Gustavus Women’s Basketball rebounds after their first loss

After a record 19-0 start, Gustavus Women’s Basketball finally faltered on Feb. 1 when they hosted fellow unbeaten St. Thomas 75-69.

Three consecutive three-pointers from Sophomore Brooke Lemke opened the game strong for the Gusties, who led 23-19 after a quarter of play. The No. 3 Tommies fought back in the second quarter, taking a 41-35 lead into halftime. In the final quarter the Gusties were down eight, but managed to rally to within a point around the 5 minute mark, but the Tommies held on for the six point win in front of a record 2,896 women’s basketball fans.

“It was a great crowd,” Head Coach Laurie Kelly said. “I can’t talk enough about the environment and the community coming out, it was amazing. I really felt like that was a huge trigger for us. When we got on our run, the crowd got into the game. It’s hard to walk off the floor knowing someone had to lose, but at the same time all of these people saw a great basketball game.”

Junior Mikayla Miller led the Gusties with 18 points, and three other starters tallied double digit points. Senior Hannah Howard posted her second double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Junior Miranda Rice went for 12, and Lemke posted 11.

Despite notching their first loss, the Gusties learned a lot and look to earn a rematch against the Tommies.

“I’ve said all year long, sometimes the chips go your way and sometimes they don’t,” Kelly said. “Today it just didn’t go our way. I think we can look and see some positives and I hope our future has Gustavus and the Tommies playing again. Our goal has always been to contend for the conference championship…Knowing that if we turn the corner and play just a little better, there’s no question we can beat St. Thomas.”

The Gusties remained ranked No. 17 nationally after the loss, temporarily halting their rapid ascent in the polls. A dominant 106-63 win over Hamline on Feb. 4 resumed the momentum, moving the Gusties to a season best No. 16 ranking.

Hot shooting gave the Gusties a 29-14 lead after only 10 minutes of play. Heading into half the Gusties led 54-31.

Despite their commanding lead, the Gusties still weren’t content.

“The first half was different than the second half for us, particularly defensively. I wasn’t happy at halftime and I don’t think the team was either. Every opportunity you have to play against somebody else is an opportunity to get more and more prepared as you head into the end of the season. You want to be playing your best basketball this time of year, so each individual has to step up their game and hopefully that will elevate us to the next level,” Kelly said.

The Gusties kept their fire in the second half, pushing their lead into the 40s with 6:39 remaining.

“We’re trying to prepare to do something special this season,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play, we are going to focus on Gustavus basketball.”

All but two Gusties scored points in the victory.  Rice led the Gusties with 25, and Miller tallied 18. Howard earned her second straight double-double to total three on the season.

The win was the 300th career for Laurie Kelly in her 19 seasons as a head coach. The last five of those seasons leading the Black and Gold.

It makes me reflect on how fortunate I’ve been over the last 19 years,” Kelly said. “It makes me think all the way back to the very first team I ever coached and the very first win I ever got. It is the same journey through all these teams and young women that have been such a positive influence in my life. It is something that we all accomplished together. If you do it long enough, milestones like this will come, but more than anything it makes me reflect on how fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to coach at such wonderful institutions, have great staffs, and be around quality student-athletes.”

To complement their No. 16 ranking, Gustavus currently sits in the top ten nationally in multiple statistical rankings.

The Gusties’ 46.6 field goal percentage ranks second, the 8.1 free throw percentage ranks fourth, and the 95.0 winning percentage is tied for eighth best.

At time of print, the Gusties were set to open up a three game road streak against MIAC foe St. Olaf (7-14 Overall, 3-11 MIAC). The Gusties then travel to Saint Benedict’s on Feb. 11 and Saint Catherine’s on Feb. 15.