WINONA LAKE – Indiana Wesleyan women’s basketball coach Steve Brooks says his team spends 60 percent of its practice time working on defense.
It showed Wednesday night.
The No. 3 Wildcats were downright defensive to the tune of a 68-40 victory over Grace College in a Crossroads League contest at the Orthopaedic Capital Center.
Brooks’ talented team clamped down on the host Lancers to remain undefeated on the season. IWU, now 8-0 overall and 2-0 in league play, held Grace to just 27 percent shooting in the victory.
“Defense is something you can control every night,” said Brooks, whose team entered the contest only allowing 47 points-per-game. “It’s what we emphasize. I think that’s because it fits my personality.”
“I’m really pleased with my team tonight. I was nervous. We did not practice well last night (Tuesday) and we have not played well here in the past. I’m proud of this group with how they competed and their mindset tonight. The competed hard. I bet if Grace had 70 possessions tonight, we defended hard on 65 of them.”
The Wildcats used hard work the entire game on the defensive end to shut down Grace, which drops to 7-2 overall and 1-1 in conference action. The Lancers, who were averaging 65.9 ppg., beat IWU 41-39 at home last January. At the time, the Wildcats were ranked No. 1.
“We knew tonight would be a battle,” said Grace coach Scott Blum. “They’re good. They were more physical and the aggressors. We haven’t played anyone (other than IPFW) with that defensive intensity. It’s what makes them different and No. 3 in the country. They play with intensity defensively every night for 40 minutes.
“We knew we had to match their intensity on defense. We didn’t do that. It was probably our poorest defensive night of the season and you can’t do that against the best team in the conference. It’s disappointing, but we’ll bounce back. We just have to pick up our intensity. Defense is 80 percent heart.”
The Wildcats led from start to finish in remaining undefeated. Wesleyan opened the game with a 3-pointer from former Wawasee High School star Taylor Goshert two minutes into the contest. The game was tied just once at 5-5 before a trey by Katrina Blackmon gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
The Lancers were within 20-18 with three minutes to go in the opening half. IWU then went on a 13-1 run to close the half, keyed by back-to-back jumpers by sophomore Blackmon, to led 33-19 at halftime. Blackmon, a transfer from Wright State and niece of former Indiana prep star and Kentucky player James Blackmon, fired in 15 of her game-high 19 points in the opening half.
“They pushed the lead at the end of the half and that kind of deflated us,” Blum said. “We keyed on No. 41 (IWU leading scorer Paige Smith) and left Blackmon a little more open and she hurt us, especially in the first half. That’s why they are No. 3.”
Grace opened the final half with a pair of buckets to pull within 33-23. That was as close as the hosts would get, however, as the Wildcats roared back with a 23-5 run.
“Offensively we made the right reads and I was pleased that we got the ball in the right places,” said Brooks, whose team shot 46 percent from the field, including hitting 7-of-18 from 3-point range.
The game was a Homecoming of sorts for a pair of IWU players. Junior Goshert starred at Wawasee and freshman Sarah Heagy played at Warsaw. Goshert, a starting guard for the Wildcats, had five points and eight rebounds. Heagy had a basket and a rebound while playing the final three minutes.
Emma Stahl, who starred at Jimtown High School, also helped the IWU cause. The sophomore starting point guard for the Wildcats had four points, two assists and two steals in the victory.
Blackmon led the Wildcats with 19 points, while senior Paige Smith added 15.
Juaneice Jackson led the Lancers with nine points. The junior guard from Gary entered the game averaging a team-high 16.4 ppg. Senior forward Emily Bidwell, a Whitko High School product, had seven points for Grace.
Grace plays at Huntington and Indiana Wesleyan travels to Mount Vernon Nazarene in conference games Saturday.