By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
After starting the season playing five games in eight days, the Mankato Loyola girls basketball team took full advantage of a three-day layoff.
“We had a great practice and the girls came into the game focused and ready to play,” head coach Rick Theuninck said after the Crusaders 51-31 win Tuesday over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. “The energy level was much better.”
The Buccaneers, playing without injured starters Madison Pratt and Kalley Kendall, scored the game’s first points on a Hannah Steinhaus layup. But it would be their last lead of the game.
The Crusaders’ three-pronged starting guard attack of Lindsey Theuninck, Jordyn Strachan and Aunikah Bastian led the way in the first half, and the team’s stout rebounding prevented WEM from scoring second-chance points in the nonconference win at Fitzgerald Gym.
“We lean pretty heavily on our guards,” coach Theuninck said. “We’re always going to put a little pressure on our guards; we expect a lot from them.”
Bastian forced numerous Bucs’ turnovers and scored a team-high nine first half points, highlighted by a 3-pointer to put the Crusaders ahead 13-2 at the 8:25 mark.
“She just does so many things well for us,” Theuninck said of Bastian. “Rebounding, passing, steals, everything. She’s all over the court. Aunikah’s a leader on our team, there’s no question about that.”
After their initial basket, the Bucs went nearly nine minutes before their next field goal, a Tierney Winter runner to put the score at 13-4.
“They play good defense, and we knew that coming in,” Bucs head coach Gabe Hauer said. “They did really well in limiting us to one shot; that’s what hurt us more than anything.
“We just didn’t get enough shots off in the first half. But credit to them, they didn’t give us any easy baskets. We just need to be more aggressive.”
The Crusaders entered halftime leading 28-13 after center Alyssa Mettler blocked a shot in the final seconds, leading to an Elizabeth Ninneman fast break layup just before the buzzer.
A Mary Pfau baseline jumper brought Loyola’s lead to its peak at 44-19 midway through the second half. Winning by a comfortable margin in the final minutes, Rick Theuninck tweaked his lineup and brought in his reserves, albeit under strict conditions.
“We took a timeout with a few minutes left and I told the team, ‘Don’t even look at the scoreboard,’” he said. “We talk all the time about finishing: Finishing possessions, finishing halves, finishing games. And we were able to do that tonight.”
Bastian finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five steals. Lindsey Theuninck added nine points, seven rebounds and five steals and Mettler followed with seven points and nine rebounds.
Steinhaus led the Bucs with eight points and nine rebounds.
Loyola plays Monday at home against Valley Conference foe Madelia, while WEM (3-2) plays Friday at home versus Blooming Prairie in a Gopher Conference game.