Riding a three-game losing streak into the General Shale Atlantic Sun Basketball Women’s Championship, second-seeded Stetson was hungry for a victory – especially considering its first-round draw.
Turns out, the key for the Hatters’ 72-59 win over USC Upstate at the University Center
was gobbling up rebounds.
Stetson (22-9) was beaten on the boards four days ago in a loss to USC Upstate. In fact, although records are incomplete, the Spartans’ Paulina Zaveckaite tallied 22 rebounds – the highest single-game total by a Stetson opponent in school history.
That left Stetson head coach Lynn Bria and her squad mad as, well, a Hatter.
“I think for us, we have the type of team that when you show them those things on film –
and I clipped every offensive rebound that they got and I made them watch it --you can talk to them until you’re blue in the face, but until they see it for themselves,” Bria said. “This team responds when they see things like that.”
Ironically, one of the hungriest Hatters was the smallest. The 2012 A-Sun Player of the Year, Victoria McGowan, a 5-foot-5 guard, swallowed nine rebounds, to go along with 15 points.
“I tried to be aggressive…attack the basket,” McGowan said.
Bria said her team’s focus was singular after the disheartening defeat at USC Upstate to
close the regular season.
“The gameplan was to take the paint and we did it,” Bria said. “The last time we played them, they hurt us inside – whether it was layups, penetration or offensive rebounds.”
The Hatters, who led by as many as 16 points, outrebounded the Spartans 52-40 in the contest. Stetson also scored 46 points in the paint to USC Upstate’s 18.
“Forty-six in the paint is almost as many as we scored total, so that kind of did us in,” USC Upstate head coach Tammy George said. “We made them work for everything last time. It seemed like they got easy shots all night long in the paint.”
The Hatters’ dominance on the boards led to an imbalance in second-chance points as well. Stetson won that battle 21-3, and the Spartans were held scoreless in that category until there was less than five minutes remaining in the game.
Sasha Sims led Stetson with 18 points. Cherisse Burris chipped in 12, along with a team-leading 12 rebounds.
“I came out with a scorer’s mentality so anytime I was open I took the shot,” Sims said.
USC Upstate struggled to a paltry 33 percent shooting from the field, including 18.5 percent from 3-point range.
“Not what I expected tonight,” George said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well from the outside. “We made shots at home last week and I think that’s what got us going. It should be the opposite. Our defense should get us going. We just couldn’t make shots and we were giving up easy ones to
Guard Hannah Ohl scored a season-high 18 points for USC Upstate. She started fast, recording 11 points – including 3-for-5 from 3-point range – in the game’s first nine minutes.
However, she cooled the rest of the way. “They started getting out on me more, but I missed open shots I shouldn’t have,” Ohl said.
Zaveckaite was corralled for most of the game as well. Seven of the 6-foot-2 center’s 14 points, and seven of her 12 rebounds came in the game’s final nine minutes – well after the Hatters’ had put their stamp on the outcome.
Bria said playing Zaveckaite more physical was an emphasis this week.
“We weren’t very physical with them,” Bria said. “We let them do whatever they wanted to do. Today, was our day.”
The win also put Stetson back in the win column after a tough stretch to close out the regular season.
“We had three tough road games to end the season, so we kept that in perspective,” Bria
said. “It wasn’t how we wanted to finish, but we were all three of those opponents’ ‘Senior Game,’ and there’s a lot of emotion with that.
“We just had to go back and look at the body of work and not let it take our confidence. I knew we’d play better than we had been playing.”
Brandon Webb is a freelance sports writer who resides in Macon, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.