MISHAWAKA, Ind. -- A top-10 clash in the Mid-Central College Conference turned into a defensive clinic as the No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball team overwhelmed No. 8-ranked Bethel (Ind.) College 66-46 today in Mishawaka, Indiana.
A 15-0 run in the early minutes of the contest allowed the Wildcats to gain the lead and momentum and never look back. A field goal by senior guard Stephanie Burtch right at the midway point of the first half gave the Wildcats a 17-6 lead as the deficit never fell below 10 the rest of the afternoon.
"Early on we were getting the ball right where we wanted but we just missed shots," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "(Georgia Boisse) bothered us in the middle and the game was pretty physical. But I think we adjusted. And once we got adjusted we started taking advantage of some stuff that we could get inside. When we did we were able to extend the lead on them. We hit some 3's against their zone and they tried to change their defense up and our kids responded to the changes."
Indiana Wesleyan (19-1, 8-0 MCC) limited the explosive Bethel offense to just eight points during the game's first 15 plus minutes of action. Although Bethel scored nine points in the final four and a half minutes of the half, IWU took a 29-17 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats dominance overflowed into the start of the second half. IWU opened with an 18-2 run to build a 47-19 lead with 11 minutes left to play. The Pilots would get no closer than 17 points the rest of the game.
Highlighting the victory was the ever present Indiana Wesleyan defense.
IWU held Bethel to 28 points below their season average while shutting out their top two scorers. Laura Johnson averages 18.1 points and Kristin Hicks contributes 10.6 points as the duo amounts for 40.5-percent of the Bethel offensive production. The pair combined for no points on 0-of-13 shooting.
"Our kids did a really nice job of keeping their top two scorers in check," said Brooks. "Lauren Johnson is the number one scorer in the MCC and we held her scoreless for the day. Kristin Hicks has been scoring a lot for them from Oak Hill. She has been playing very well and we held her scoreless for the day. I think that set the tone for our defensive pressure and focus."
Bethel (14-5, 6-2 MCC) does a lot of their damage from beyond the arc. BC entered play ranked seventh in NAIA Division II with 150 3-pointers made (8.3 per game). Indiana Wesleyan limited them to just 5-of-17 (29.4-percent), with two of those 3's coming in the final 2:12 of the game.
"It's really hard because they are not shooting 3's in a half court setting," said Brooks. "They are shooting 3's in transition. They hit one of their 3's on a relocation rebound and they were able to get some in the last three, four minutes trying to get back into the game. But for the most part we limited them on the 3-point line. Enough to give us a chance to win the game."
Indiana Wesleyan junior guard Claire Freeman led all players with 18 points while senior guard Rachel Steinbarger added 11 points on a perfect shooting afternoon. IWU nearly received a pair of double-doubles from their post players. Senior center Krystal Stoneking notched 16 points and nine rebounds while junior forward Paige Smith added 10 points and nine boards.
The Wildcats shot 43.5-percent (20 of 46) from the field. IWU held a huge advantage at the free throw line, hitting 24-of-31 (77.4-percent) from the stripe, compared to just 7-of-8 (87.5-percent) for the Pilots.
Bethel was led in scoring by Ashley Lutz off the bench with nine points. The team shot a dismal 26.2-percent (17 of 65) from the floor and committed 18 turnovers.
Indiana Wesleyan returns to Luckey Arena for two MCC games next week. The first game is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 18 as Indiana Wesleyan hosts University of Saint Francis (Ind.).