By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
The Minnesota State women’s basketball team continued its late-season charge Friday night at Bresnan Arena by overpowering Sioux Falls 84-67 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference contest.
Junior forward Ali Wilkinson fired in a game-high 22 points — including 7 of 7 from the foul line — as the Mavericks avenged an earlier loss to Sioux Falls and stretched their unbeaten streak to 10 straight. Minnesota State (21-4 overall, 17-4 in NSIC) forced 21 Cougars’ turnovers and turned them into 25 points while also netting 15 second-chance baskets.
“Defensively, it was a big difference from the first time we played them,” Minnesota State coach Emilee Thiesse said. “We played better team defense and did a better job of making adjustments on certain players. We’re an up-tempo, pressure type of team and forcing that many turnovers leads into our transition game.”
Sioux Falls (12-13, 9-12) struggled early taking care of the ball and Mavericks capitalized, jumping out to a 20-7 lead on sophomore forward Jamie Bresnahan’s top-of-the-key 3-pointer eight minutes into the game. Sophomore guard Aubrey Davis and junior guard Alli Hoefer also drained 3-pointers in the burst while Wilkinson put through two baskets and a pair of foul shots.
Junior wing Laura Johnson, who scored 15 of her 17 points in the first half, then hit a left-handed banker and left-side 3-pointer to help the Cougars get within 25-19 with 6:17 to go. However, three straight hoops by the Mavericks — Wilkinson’s layup, Bresnahan’s putback and Steffaney Thomas’ down-the-boulevard drive — turned the tide and Bresnahan’s free-throw line jumper produced a 41-28 advantage at the break.
“We helped each other out more and it wasn’t as individualized as it was the last time around against them,” said Bresnahan, who ended up with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists. “Our guards really pushed the ball and made somebody come up and stop them before giving up on it. I think that led to a lot of our points in the paint.”
Davis, who buried 4 of 7 from beyond the arc in finishing with 14 points, connected on a baseline 3-pointer to open the second half and the Mavericks eventually built a 62-39 lead with 12:39 left on back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Ashley Olson. Olson totaled eight points, six rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes of play off the bench.
“They really played well the last time we played them so we knew we had to get some stops on defense,” Wilkinson said. “We really focused in on Johnson at halftime because she had over half of their points. We were able to dig in in the second half and play better team defense against her.”
Thomas enjoyed a fine all-around game for the Mavericks, tallying 13 points, four rebounds and three assists. Senior guard Holli Aggen scored 17 points for the Cougars, who ended up shooting 53.1 percent from the field compared to Minnesota State’s 48.3 percent.
Minnesota State closes out its regular season today with a 4 p.m. game against Southwest Minnesota State at Bresnan Arena.