By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
A more aggressive Minnesota State women’s basketball team erupted for 51 second-half points Saturday night at Bresnan Arena to overcome a sluggish start and notch an 81-57 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference win over Upper Iowa.
After scuffling through a seven-minute drought without a field goal and falling behind 34-30 at intermission, the Mavericks’ free-wheeling offense got untracked over the second 20 minutes and quickly pulled away from the Peacocks.
“We’re definitely a second-half team,” Minnesota State junior forward Ali Wilkinson said. “We didn’t like the feel of the last five minutes of the first half; we wanted to come out more aggressive. Our defense was better in the second half, too.”
Wilkinson connected on 10 of 17 shots in finishing with a game-high 24 points. She also ripped off 17 rebounds and collected three assists as the Mavericks improved to 6-0, 3-0 in the Northern Sun.
Sophomore forward Jamie Bresnahan enjoyed a productive game as well, finishing with 14 points, six rebounds and five blocked shots, including a pair of rejections in a 10-second span to force a shot-clock violation.
“We didn’t respond very well to their 1-2-2 trap in the first half,” Bresnahan said. “Our passing wasn’t really on key, and that led to that downward spiral at the end of the first half. We really narrowed in at halftime on what we had to do to beat that trap.”
Upper Iowa (3-4, 0-3 in Northern Sun) found itself trailing 29-18 when Wilkinson tallied two inside buckets with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half. However, sophomore guard Whitney Kieffer’s nine-point flurry triggered a half-ending 16-1 surge to end the half. Kieffer’s three-point play of a coast-to-coast drive capped things and had Minnesota State acting head coach Amy Sander a bit concerned.
“We didn’t handle their 1-2-2 zone in the first half,” Sander said. “We got to break it down a little more at halftime and attacked it more in the second half. We were just settling for shots in the first half.
“We played really good defense in the second half without fouling and that’s been one of our problems.”
Minnesota State, which dominated the boards 52-38 and committed fewer turnovers 21-14, got two baskets each from Wilkinson and Bresnahan in the early stages of the second half before a 3-pointer and 18-footer from junior guard Karlee Gengenbacher helped the Mavericks take a 47-40 lead. Gengenbacher, who ended up with 13 points behind a trio of triples, then nailed another three to make it 55-46.
Leading 64-53 with just under six minutes to go, the Mavericks reeled off 13 straight points to grab a 77-53 advantage on back-to-back driving hoops by junior guard Alli Hoefer, who chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Sophomore guard Aubrey Davis tallied 12 points and five assists for the winners, who made 30 of 74 from the field for 40.5 percent.
Kieffer led the Peacocks with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Carly Pagel added 12 points and seven boards.
Minnesota State plays Friday against Southwest Minnesota State at Marshall.