Junior guard Aunikah Bastian’s 14 points and nine steals lifted Mankato Loyola to a 38-29 nonconference girls basketball win over United South Central on Saturday night at Fitzgerald gym .
While it was far from an artistic battle, the Crusaders were able to grind things out behind a tenacious defensive effort and pair of offensive spurts — a 13-0 run in first half and a 10-2 surge in the second half — that accounted for a majority of their points. Junior forward Annie Nawrocki came off the bench to net seven of her nine points over the opening 18 minutes.
“We started to get a little loose with the ball,” Loyola coach Rick Theuninck said. “To their credit, they mixed their defenses up and played pretty well. We need to take better care of the basketball. I thought our defense was fantastic in the first half. We were talking, switching and we were boxing out rebounding.
“We had some breakdowns in the second half. We talk about finishing off possessions, and we lost focus a little bit in the second half. I’ll credit their lack of offensive flow to our defense, we really got after them.”
USC (10-9) got the game’s first basket — a putback from 6-foot-2 senoir post Amanda Allis — before Lindsey Theuninck’s 17-footer off the right wing triggered the Crusaders’ initial run that produced a 13-2 lead on Nawrocki's layup eight minutes into the contest. Jordyn Strachan fired in a top-of-the-key triple in the stretch while Bastian nailed a 17-footer and left-elbow jumper.
Loyola (17-2) stretched its lead to 20-5 on Theuninck’s basket off one of five assists from senior center Alyssa Metter. However, Eryn Eilertson’s close-range hoop and Tara Bauman’s right-side 3-pointer pulled the Rebels within 20-10 at the break. USC committed 16 of its 26 turnovers in the first half and managed to put through only 4 of 16 field-goal attempts.
“Our starters had done a good job of getting us going, and I didn’t want to slow us down,” Nawrocki said. “We take pride in keeping the same momentum going when we put new players in the game. They had a lot of size on us, but Alyssa is a strong player and she did really well.”
Bastian’s free-throw line swish and 17-footer off the right baseline put the Crusaders ahead 33-17 with 8:10 to go. Senior Mary Pfau answered two layups from Anissa Janzig with a 17-footer from the top of the circle before back-to-back 3s from Bauman and Taylor Schultz trimmed the Crusaders’ lead to 35-27 with 1:11 left.
Bastian then sealed the win when she weaved through a swarming defensive press and found Nawrocki for a layup. Mettler and Nawrocki grabbed four rebounds apiece while Strachan dished out three assists.
USC enjoyed a 36-24 edge on the glass with Allis plucking off eight and Janzig hauling down five. The Rebels made only 11 of 39 from the field for 28 percent compared to Loyola's 17 of 46 for 37 percent.
“We worked together and got through the harder times,” Bastian said. “We switched on everything defensively, and that seemed to help. We fronted the big girl and then got backside help. They had a pretty good zone, and we struggled at times. We were maybe going too quickly instead of moving it around and waiting for better shots. We were aggressive defensively and got a lot of turnovers.”
Loyola hosts Alden-Conger on Monday in a Valley Conference Showcase game.