SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The storm came howling out of halftime like the devil’s own gale. And for a moment, likely several, IPFW women’s basketball coach Chris Paul could see a W in it.
I honestly believe when we took that eight-point lead, that we had turned the corner and we were gonna win the basketball game, Paul said Sunday evening, not long after the Denver Pioneers took the brunt of two furious IPFW rallies and tottered away with a 79-73 win in the Summit League quarterfinals. I saw a look in our players’ eyes.
Sure he did. The Mastodons, after all, had just scored 19 of the first 23 points of the second half. They’d forced Denver into 1-of-11 shooting in the first 7 1/2 minutes. And a seven-point halftime hole had turned inside out, emerging as a 47-39 lead with 12:24 to play.
I think we just came out really hard (defensively), said Amanda Hyde, who finished her impeccable career with 28 points including 22 in the second half. They didn’t have it the entire game and we had it right then, and unfortunately we couldn’t do it the whole half.
In other words: That look Paul saw never quite went away. But the storm did.
It blew itself out, and then Denver turned things around with a 13-2 run of its own, and, after one last push by IPFW, the Pioneers (8-22) hung on. And out of the season went the Mastodons (15-14), turned away for the second time this season against Denver despite scoring 14 of the last 20 points in one last furious rally that just fell short.
Led by Hyde, the Mastodons cut a 70-57 deficit with 3:13 to play to 71-69 on Rachel Mauk’s driving layup with 48 seconds to play. But Alison Janecek’s layup and six free throws stopped the bleeding, and Paige Bradley’s steal of an inbounds pass with 4 seconds left finally sealed it.
It was a fitting end for Bradley, a 5-foot-9 guard from Texas who, left unchecked at the 3-point line while IPFW collapsed on the Denver bigs (Theresa Wirth, Desiree Hunter and Janecek), knocked down 5 of 6 3-pointers and scored 16 of her 24 points in the first half, when Denver trailed only once.
I’ve got to give Denver a lot of credit, Paul said. They made shots early. They really did. They had a couple players step up that don’t normally shoot the way their stats showed. And that’s why you win games.
Whenever you get to this point, there always seems to be an X-factor somewhere. And Denver had an X-factor in a young lady who hit five 3s on us.
Denver coach Kerry Cremeans, meanwhile, was just glad to have weathered the storm.
I think that put us back on our heels a little bit, Cremeans said of the Mastodons’ 19-4 run. But we know that it’s a game of runs and we were able to withstand that, and then it just became neck-and-neck from that point on.
Besides Bradley, Kailey Edwards added 14 and Morgan Van Riper-Rose 12 for Denver, which outrebounded the Mastodons 40-27. Besides Hyde – who made 8 of her last 11 shots and added five rebounds, three assists and a steal to her total – Haley Seibert added 16 points and Stefanie Mauk 10.
I think what I’m most proud about is. We battle. We don’t ever stop, Paul said. Things didn’t go our way in the first half and we were still able to cut it to seven. We made some adjustments, we talked about some things at halftime and we came out ready to go and we played really well, and we had an eight point lead. And then it disappeared. And it looked like the game was over.
And then, all of a sudden, we went on a run again and pushed it all the way up to the end. That’s just a tribute to the quality of the student-athletes that we have here.