United South Central may have lost to Mankato Loyola by 24 points less than three weeks ago, but the Rebels showed they were a different team Monday in the finals of the Section 2A, South Subsection Tournament at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
USC led only a couple of times in the game but refused to wilt under the Crusaders' relentless pressure. The Crusaders finally salted the game away at the free-throw line in the final minute to earn a 48-41 victory and advance to Friday's Section 2A championship game.
"I wouldn't say it's scary, but you have to be careful," Loyola's Lindsay Theuninck said of the rematch. "You have to be very careful you don't underestimate anybody. Especially since their big girl (Tara Bauman) was out with an injury the first time we played them."
It looked like it might be a runaway for the Crusaders in the first two minutes as they jumped to a 9-1 lead. A 3-pointer and two free throws by Lindsey led the early surge.
But United South Central slowly dragged itself back into the game. The Rebels got to within 16-8 and then went on a 10-point run to take an 18-16 lead. Consecutive inside hoops by Anissa Janzig led the rally.
The teams stayed close the remainder of the half with Loyola holding on to a 24-22 advantage at the break. Theuninck had 12 first-half points for the Crusaders.
The Rebels went completely cold in the first nine minutes of the second half, scoring just two points. Loyola wasn't a whole lot better during that span but built the lead up to 34-24 with 8:52 to play. Much of USC's scoring woes could be attributed to Loyola's pressing defense which ended up forcing 34 turnovers.
"At half we just said we wanted to keep them from setting up in their offense," Loyola head coach Rick Theuninck said. "We finally started getting some backside help on the press and got some turnovers off of it. I think that was the big difference."