By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — The Minnesota State women’s basketball showdown with 11th-ranked and South Division leading Wayne State turned out to be a lesson in defensive fortitude Saturday afternoon at Bresnan Arena.
In the end, it was Wayne State that came up with enough stops to get past the Mavericks 89-82 in a crucial Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game before 431 fans. The Wildcats (17-2 overall, 10-2 in NSIC) limited Minnesota State to a 31.4 percent shooting level in the first half and an overall mark of 38.5 percent after the Mavericks scored 20 points over the final 2:35.
“I have no problems with our offense performance,” Minnesota State coach Emilee Thiesse said. “We scored enough points to win, we just didn’t get the stops and that’s disappointing on our home court.
“We’ve got to get back to work and really buy into our defensive philosophy. We never adjusted to the officiating and that’s all on us.
“It’s up to us to clean that up and be more aggressive on the other end to get to the free-throw line more. We just show up ready to go from the start. It all came down to the defensive end and it’s frustrating that our defense isn’t what it needs to be consistently.
Minnesota State (11-5, 8-4) had trouble finding a flow in the early stages before 6-foot senior forward Ali Wilkinson’s three-basket flurry along with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer from Ashley Olson helped the Mavericks claim an 18-15 lead. After three 3-pointers from senior wing Ellen Hanson produced a 28-21 Wildcats’ advantage, senior guard Hillary Paulson’s 3-pointer and two foul shots enabled Minnesota State to trim the cushion to 32-30 at the break.
Wayne State stretched its lead to 38-30 behind Addy Roller’s three-point play along with a layup and free throw from Jordan Spencer. Karlee Gengenbacher’s right-side 3-pointer finally got the Mavericks on the board before two 3’s from Roller and another from Hansen pushed the Wildcats’ margin to 56-46 with 8:58 to go. Wilkinson, who ended up with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists, then converted a three-point play off a strong inside move and junior guard Aubrey Davis followed with a right-side 3-pointer.
Wilkinson’s reverse layup with 4:36 remaining cut the deficit to 66-60 but the Mavericks never got any closer as Wayne State netted 15 free throws the rest of the way in finishing 35 of 39 from the foul line for a sizzling 89.7 percent. Spencer, an athletic 5-11 junior from Omaha, paced the Wildcats with 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. Roller dropped through 22 points in the contest while Hansen tallied 20 points and a team-best nine rebounds.
“We were fouling too much,” Wilkinson said of the Mavericks’ 30 fouls. “We weren’t able to make the plays without fouling and we weren’t able to adjust to what the refs were calling.
“It was a physical game and we weren’t able to finish our bunnies off. Even with a little contact, we have to be stronger with our finishes. ... We weren’t able to get as many points out of the paint as we should have.”
Davis buried three 3-pointers over the final two minutes to cap her team-best 21-point performance. Minnesota State won the boards 43-35 and committed fewer turnovers 19-14.
The Mavericks play Friday at Winona State.