MARION, Ind. -- Two sumptuous runs in the second half lifted the top-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball team past No. 25-ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.) 73-62 on Wednesday evening in Luckey Arena.
Indiana Wesleyan (20-1, 9-0 MCC) compiled two critical stretches that turned the tides of the game in favor of the Wildcats.
Saint Francis (13-8, 5-4 MCC) captured their largest lead of the night when senior guard Myqueisha Bratton scored in the paint for a 46-38 lead and 13:39 remaining in the game. But over the next four plus minutes Indiana Wesleyan exploded for a 16-3 run that lifted IWU to a 54-49 lead with 9:11 remaining. Off the Indiana Wesleyan bench, junior guard Paige Smith tallied eight of her 12 points during the stretch while freshman point guard Emma Stahl earned four of her seven assists.
"I think Paige and Emma gave us an awful lot of energy which we were playing without," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "We came out and just didn't seem to have the enthusiasm and focus that we needed to have and made it a game. We brought in some people who did have some energy and were looking to attack rather than play around on the outside. Emma looked to attack and created some stuff. It helps us."
The Cougars regained the lead four minutes later when senior forward Amanda Pedro connected on a pair of free throw to take a 62-61 advantage. Once again Indiana Wesleyan would take over momentum that would close the game out. Over the final four minutes of play IWU outscored USF 12-0 for the 73-62 victory.
Indiana Wesleyan did not allow Saint Francis to score in the final 4:29 and not hit a field goal for the last 5:01.
"Our game plan was to defend them with a kid who didn't play," said Brooks. "I kind of stuck to that game plan until the end and then we made some adjustments. And that was more in line with what we probably needed to do versus what we were trying to do."
Missing the game for Saint Francis was leading scorer junior guard Kayla Drake with a leg injury. She injured it in the final minute of the game at Grace (Ind.) College on Saturday.
"They have pride. That's a group of kids that have played at a high level, they're Division I kids," added Brooks. "They have pride and are not going to roll over and play dead weather Kayla Drake plays or not. They aren't going to quit. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
Indiana Wesleyan saw scoring come from diverse ways on Wednesday as five finished in double figures and a sixth player with eight points.
"We had five in double figures," continued Brooks. "That's what being a team is all about."
Senior center Krystal Stoneking was 9-of-13 from the field for a game-high 20 points and senior guard Rachel Steinbarger added 11 with a pair of 3-pointers. Each finished one rebound shy of a double-double. Smith and junior guard Claire Freeman added 12 points and Stahl scored a career-best 10 points. Senior guard Stephanie Burtch contributed eight points to round out the balanced scoring attack.
Both teams had just seven players see the court, but Indiana Wesleyan easily won the battle of the benches. Saint Francis produced a grand totaled of zero points and one rebound off the bench as they received just 15 minutes combined. On the other side, Indiana Wesleyan totaled 22 points, six rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
Indiana Wesleyan hit 48.1-percent (26 of 54) on the night and 41.7-percent (5 of 12) from 3-point range. Saint Francis was limited to 40.4-percent (21 of 52) shooting and 13.3-percent (2 of 15) from long range.
The Wildcats will remain at home for their next game which is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 21 versus Marian (Ind.) University.