By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
The Minnesota State women’s basketball team closed out the 2012 portion of its schedule Wednesday night at Bresnan Arena by running past Dakota State 85-42 in a nonconference game.
Junior forward Ali Wilkinson poured through 27 points and junior guard Karlee Gengenbacher totaled 16 points, six rebounds and three assists as the Mavericks enter the holiday break with an 8-1 overall record. Minnesota State’s swift-moving transition game and strong interior play accounted for 48 points in the paint against the 4-7 Trojans.
“We talked about being more than just a 3-point team and we did a much better job of getting to the rim,” Mavericks’ coach Emilee Thiesse said. “Transition was a big part of where the points came from and pushing the tempo is big for us.
“I still feel defensively we’ve got a long ways to go. We’re making some improvements there but that’s still going to be a big focus for us.”
Minnesota State scored the game’s first eight points — with Wilkinson driving to the hoop twice and converting a spinning move inside — before a 3-pointer off each wing from junior guard Alli Hoefer produced an early 14-2 cushion.
After a three-point play from sophomore forward Jamie Bresnahan and Gengenbacher’s 10-foot pull-up jumper put the Mavericks ahead 30-12, Dakota State trimmed the lead to 30-19 behind a pair of 13-footers from Courtney Hamblin. Hamblin led the Trojans with 10 points and four rebounds.
However, consecutive three-point plays from Wilkinson triggered a half-ending 15-0 burst that gave the Mavericks a 45-19 advantage. Wilkinson tallied 14 points over the opening 20 minutes while Gengenbacher and Hoefer chipped in with 11 and eight points, respectively. Dakota State turned the ball over 18 times in the half, resulting in 21 MSU points.
“Our last game we were letting them get whatever they wanted offensively,” Gengenbacher said. “We worked all week on our defense and getting better at getting into the passing lanes.
“We were moving much better as a team tonight and we moved the ball quicker looking for the inside-outside game. I think last Saturday we were tired and our legs just weren’t there.”
Gengenbacher opened the second half with a pair of slicing drives to the cup before two free throws apiece from Wilkinson and sophomore guard Ashley Olson stretched the lead to 53-19. Wilkinson, who played only 20 minutes, then took advantage of a couple of nifty assists from Hoefer and Gengenbacher to convert layups.
“We wanted to start out each half really strong,” Wilkinson said. “It didn’t feel very good losing our last game so we wanted to regain focus and come out strong this time.
“We were able to force the other team into a lot of turnovers so they weren’t able to get their shots up. We got a lot of fastbreak points and our guards did a great job of getting us the ball in the paint.”
Minnesota State, which connected on 33 of 77 from the field for 42.9 percent and controlled the boards 48-35, returns to action January 4 with a conference game at Augustana.