By Chad Courrier
---- — MANKATO — Start quick, build a big, early lead and roll to a relatively easy victory.
The Minnesota State women's basketball team has won four straight games, and the common theme has been exceptional first halves.
"We have to be the team that comes out and sets the tone," Minnesota State coach Emilee Thiesse said. "Sometimes, we've waited to see how the game goes and we get tentative, but when we create the momentum and set the pace, we're better. We've done that the last two weekends."
The Mavericks opened a 44-31 lead at halftime and defeated Minot State 80-62 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game Saturday at Bresnan Arena.
The Mavericks have been a good first-half team for most of the season, averaging 11.6 points more than opponents in the opening 20 minutes of games. In the four-game winning streak, that advantage has been more impressive.
On Friday, the Mavericks led Mary 50-35 at halftime of an 84-68 victory. Last weekend, Minnesota State led Winona State 34-19 at halftime and won 77-53, then led Upper Iowa 48-26 at halftime of an 87-61 victory.
"We knew we had to come out with energy tonight," senior Karlee Gengenbacher said. "(Minot State) is a team that relies on five or six players to play a lot of minutes so we wanted to run and put a lot of pressure on them. I think we wore them down."
The key to Saturday's first half was scoring balance. The Mavericks had 11 players in the first half, and every one scored. In Friday's victory over Mary, 11 different players scored.
"On this team, we can have a different leading scorer every night," Gengenbacher said. "It's getting down to the end of the season, and we need something from everyone every night."
The second half was uneventful as the lead stayed comfortable, anywhere between 16 and 21 points. In the locker room at halftime, Gengenbacher said that the coaches remind the players that they need to play with the same energy in the second half.
"It's important that we play the same way in the second half," Gengenbacher said. "Coach is always telling us that we need to have a complete, 40-minute game."
Gengenbacher ended up with 15 points, while reserve forward Tyra Johnson had 11 points and seven rebounds. Ali Wilkinson had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Aubrey Davis made seven assists.
"Ali draws so much attention from the defense, but that's OK," Thiesse said. "We forced 29 turnovers, and that's an opportunity for anybody to score."
The Mavericks (15-5, 12-4 in Northern Sun) host the final home games of the regular season next weekend, with Southwest Minnesota State here Friday and Sioux Falls on Saturday.
"Every weekend is important," Gengenbacher said. "We have to work hard and compete in practice. Every opponent we play is capable of an upset so we need to keep working to get better."