Rebounding, defense key Bears to road win

| Sports Reporter

Sophomore Maddy Scheppers drives to the basket on Dec. 5 against Millikin University. Scheppers recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday against Augustana College as the Bears won 74-61 to improve to 6-1 on the season.

The No. 5 Washington University women’s basketball team weathered a late rally at Augustana College on Saturday to extend its winning streak to four and move to 6-1 on the season. The 74-61 final score belies that the game was a defensive battle—for most of the first half, there were fewer baskets made than minutes played—but the Bears’ sizable advantages in rebounding and free-throw shooting proved to be the difference against an upset-minded opponent.

As has been the storyline for the team’s season thus far, strong defense carried the Bears even when their shooters were slumping. Augustana’s first basket came 5:15 into the game, and the Vikings were held to 32 percent shooting in an 18-point first half.

The final 20 minutes told a different tale as Augustana shot 55.6 percent and sank five three-pointers en route to 43 second half points. After leading by as much as 19, Wash. U. saw its lead dwindle to seven with 7:57 remaining in the contest, but the Bears’ strong free-throw shooting (26-33 for the game, including 13-14 in the final 3:18) and a four-minute scoring drought for the Vikings sealed the victory.

Although the Bears played a base man defense for most of the game, they sprinkled in stretches of a zone and of a full-court man press to spice up the defensive variety and force the Vikings to rely on their second and third options.

For instance, after Augustana’s Jessica Baids scored two buckets from the post to open the Vikings’ scoring, Wash. U. switched to a 2-3 zone on the next few possessions to cut off passing angles into the block; Baids was held scoreless for the remainder of the half.

“If they go on a run of points, we want to stop that as soon as possible,” sophomore Melissa Gilkey said. “They hit a couple big shots…I think we were just trying to mix it up to slow them down and get them out of that rhythm that they were creating, and it worked.”

“Of course we were worried because we didn’t want to give this one away,” sophomore Maddy Scheppers said of Augustana’s second-half surge. “It was a tough road game…of course they had their spurt, but we controlled it and got back to where we wanted it with our rebounding and defense.”

Gilkey recorded her second-straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Scheppers tallied one of her own with 12 points and 11 boards.

Wash. U., however, did not fare much better than Augustana in the first 20 minutes, shooting only 34.2 percent, but the many misses created a plethora of offensive rebounding opportunities, of which the Bears took full advantage.

The Red and Green had a 46-32 rebounding margin for the game, highlighted by 25 offensive boards and a 24-6 advantage in second-chance points. Rebounding is “especially important,” Gilkey said, “because when our shooters…are off, the only way to get back on is to keep shooting, and the only way that they’re going to feel comfortable keeping on shooting is that they know that they have those rebounders.”

Saturday was the second-straight road game—including a Dec. 1 win over Elmhurst College—in which the team’s shooters couldn’t find a rhythm. In the past two games, Wash. U. has shot less than 40 percent and a combined 2-18 (11.1 percent) from downtown. While those percentages are only good on an organic chemistry test, the Bears aren’t worried about the struggles.

“I think it’s a fluke because I feel we’ve been shooting pretty well,” Scheppers said. “Our rebounding covers a lot of our shooting mishaps, so I think we’ll be fine in the shooting department…maintain our defense and rebounding, and we’ll be good. The shooting will come.”

For their next two games, the Red and Green return home, where they have shot 48.1 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range this year. If the friendly confines of the Field House cannot bring back their shooting strokes, the Bears’ recent road games reveal the formula needed to win even if their shots aren’t falling.

Wash. U. will face Fontbonne University on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.

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