MARION, Ind. -- Slow starts to each half did not deter the No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball team as the Wildcats won their sixth straight game by defeating rival Taylor (Ind.) University 63-56 on Wednesday evening in Luckey Arena.
In 13 minutes nearly spread equally among the start of each half, Taylor outscored Indiana Wesleyan 19-5. But the rest of the time was controlled by IWU as they outscored their Grant County rival by a 58-37 margin.
"I'm really thankful for the win," said Brooks. "But at the same time I'm really frustrated in some things we did tonight. We let Redweik (21 points) catch and shoot and we let them go to the free throw line (15 of 17). We need to get into position to not let that be a factor. But we got a conference win at home which is what we needed to do."
Taylor (13-6, 3-4 MCC) held a pair of eight point cushions early in the game, the last coming at 13-5 when Tess Rudolph scored in the paint with 13:42 left in the opening half.
With Taylor leading 17-10, Indiana Wesleyan started to click on the offensive end. IWU scored the next 16 points to turn a seven point deficit into a nine point advantage. During the four and a half minute stretch the Wildcats knocked down four 3-pointers. Senior guard Rachel Steinbarger and junior guard Claire Freeman each hit two as the lead blossomed to 26-17.
Junior forward Paige Smith scored the final basket of the first half with a basket down low with 17 seconds left. It gave Indiana Wesleyan the 32-27 halftime lead and would be the final point for IWU for quite some time.
Indiana Wesleyan (18-1, 7-0 MCC) would not score a single point for nearly the first eight minutes of the second half. IWU missed their first 14 field goal attempts until Smith scored with 12:21 remaining. Almost as amazing as the extended scoring drought, the Smith basket gave Indiana Wesleyan a 34-33 lead.
"I thought we missed some golden opportunities inside," Brooks said about the lack of scoring early in the half. "There were some times when Krystal was under the basket wide open and we just didn't see her. When we finally found our bigs you saw what happened."
Despite the poor offensive start to the second half, the Indiana Wesleyan defense did not suffer. Taylor only scored six points during that time with two baskets and two free throws.
The Trojans' Kelsey Bryant hit two free throws for a 38-36 lead with 10:53 remaining on the clock. In similar fashion to the first half, Indiana Wesleyan went on another extend run with 12 unanswered points over the next five minutes for a 48-38 lead.
All 12 points were scored in the paint with Smith taking over with 10 points and senior center Krystal Stoneking with the other two. Smith would finish the game with a team-high 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
"Paige played very well offensively but she was also a factor defensively," said Brooks. "She got into position, she moved her feet well, and she defended well," stated Brooks. "We had Paige out there on Erin (Guarneri) and that is a tough matchup because Erin can go inside-outside. She did a nice job of moving her feet and keeping the ball in front of her and that really helped us."
Indiana Wesleyan led by as many as 11 (56-45) down the stretch but Taylor was able to chip away very late. Taylor did trim the lead to 59-56 on a Bryant basket with 12 seconds remaining. But Freeman iced the game with two free throws with nine seconds to play.
After missing their first 14 shots in the second half the Wildcats rebounded to hit 9-of-15 shots to close out the game. Overall, IWU shot 39.6-percent (21 of 53) and earned an incredible 19 assists on 21 field goals.
Freshman point guard Emma Stahl continues her stellar play since the turn of the calendar. Stahl tallied nine more assists in just 18 minutes and now has 26 assists (8.7/game) in the last three games.
"I try to come out with a lot of energy and pump up the team," said Stahl. "I just want to get it through to the team that we're better as a whole than just one individual. I just love passing. I wouldn't mind if I didn't score as long as I get it to my teammates who can dominate the floor and get it to the hoop."
"One thing Emma has is court awareness and vision," added Brooks. "She did a nice job finding the bigs inside and gave us a chance to get the lead and get away from them a little bit."
Joining Smith in double figures on Wednesday were Stoneking and Freeman with 12 points apiece and senior guard Stephanie Burtch with 10. Stoneking earned a double-double with 12 rebounds.
Defensively, Indiana Wesleyan forced Taylor into 33.9-percent (20 of 59) shooting and just 12.5-percent (1 of 8) from beyond the arc. Taylor committed 16 turnovers while Indiana Wesleyan blocked a season-best eight shot attempts.
Indiana Wesleyan will next face No. 8-ranked Bethel (Ind.) College on the road in Mishawaka, Indiana in the NAIA Division II Game of the Week. The top-10 showdown will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 14.