MARION, Ind. -- A year ago the Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball team was lucky to survive in a pair of wins over Grace (Ind.) College.
Last year the Wildcats won both games with the Lancers (7-3, 1-1 MCC) by a combined three points. The Lancers returned nearly everybody from last year's team and entered play tonight ranked No. 20 in NAIA Division II.
But the Mid-Central College Conference was put on notice once again by the newly minted No. 1-ranked Wildcats. IWU dismantled the visiting Lancers 78-37.
"I think our defense was the difference from last year's games," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "We're a different team from last year and this team has to develop its own identity and what they want to be. And right now I'm kind of excited about the fact they are coming out and defending as hard as they are. When you do that it makes everything better."
Indiana Wesleyan (8-0, 2-0 MCC) held Grace to 35 points below their season average of 72.2 points per night. Grace's previous season-low came on November 17 at NCAA Division I IPFW in a 71-54 loss. The classic stalwart defense of Indiana Wesleyan also limited Grace to 21.1-percent (12 of 57) shooting. Grace was held scoreless from beyond the arc in 12 attempts.
"I feel good about the fact that we played the whole game tonight," added Brooks. "I felt our kids really competed for the whole game, especially on the defensive end. We showed awareness and made it hard on them. They didn't hit a 3-pointer against us and that was a real positive. Our defense over the long run is going to be the difference."
The Wildcats pulled down a season-best 45 rebounds while keeping a very good rebounding team in the Lancers to 33. The key contributors to the rebounding success for IWU were senior center Krystal Stoneking with a career-best 12 boards and junior forward Paige Smith with eight.
"We had talked about rebounding a lot going into the game," continued Brooks. "We are capable of being a physical team that rebounds the basketball. One of the best things Grace does offensively is go get it off the boards and I think we limited that tonight. It gave us a chance to have the kind of game we had because we did eliminate that part of their game."
Besides a career-high 12 rebounds, Stoneking was one shy of her season-best in scoring with 27 points. She was 9-of-14 shooting and a near perfect 9-of-10 from the free throw line in 28 minutes of action.
"What can I say, she was the dominant player on the floor," stated Brooks. "She's capable of being that each night and it's exciting to see."
The Indiana Wesleyan offense was explosive again Wednesday night, shooting 52.0-percent (26 of 5) from the field with three players in double figures. Joining Stoneking with more than 10 points were Smith (13) and senior guard Rachel Steinbarger (11).
"We scored 78 points and had three kids in double figures," continued Brooks. "We've had different kids each time out in double figures. That's been a real positive for us. We're not typically a team that scores a lot of points. I want to be that team that averages 72, 73 points a game and hold people to 50 points. I'm hopeful we can continue on offense and keep balanced and diverse."
Indiana Wesleyan will have that chance their next time out on Saturday at 1 p.m. as IWU hosts MCC newcomer Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) University in Luckey Arena.