SDSU’s veterans unrattled in win

Despite facing the tough University of Denver team that fought throughout the night, the SDSU women’s basketball veteran leaders guided their team to a 72-62 victory to improve to 6-0 in conference play.

Denver entered Thursday’s game in Frost Arena with a 3-2 conference record and a misleading 5-15 overall record, which was the end result of a difficult non-conference schedule.

“I think they’re a very good team,” head coach Aaron Johnston said. “They’re another deceptive schedule. I haven’t looked exactly at the numbers but just looking at who they’ve played … there’s just no bad teams on their schedule.”

After finding themselves down 10-4 early in the first half, the Jackrabbits mount a 13-2 scoring run to be capped off by Steph Paluch with a three-pointer. This seized a 20-12 lead with 9:24 left in the half. Down the stretch, the Jacks lead by as many as 12 points before finally carrying a 32-27 lead into the locker room. 

The Pioneers trail within one point of the Jacks on two occasions in the second half before the Jacks push ahead to a 50-40 lead with 12:57 to play. At that point, the Jacks stalled out offensively, not scoring for a period of five minutes and allowing Denver to pull back to within three.

Denver’s challenge was answered by junior Megan Waytashek who, although unable to make a field goal in the first half, makes several key drives to the basket, including a three-point play that spurs the SDSU offense back into gear.

“We’ve been challenged, I think, in a lot of our games and we’ve responded really well,” Johnston said. “We’ve had teams make runs at us and it hasn’t really rattled us. We’ve had really good possessions at the right time and a couple of really good ones today when they got it close the second half. We had the right people taking shots.”

Following her three-point play, Denver’s Morgan Van Riper-Rose hit a three to cut the SDSU lead to four. Tara Heiser and Gabrielle Boever, who had just returned to the game after sitting with four fouls, hit back-to-back threes to put the Jacks up eight with 3:34 to go. From that point on, the Jacks do not make another shot from the field but, instead, ice the game away from the free throw line to win their sixth straight.

“For all the talk of our youth and how talented we are and we’re really excited about those players, the success of our team is going to come down with how our juniors and seniors play,” Johnston said. “There’s just no question about it. They’re the leaders. They’re the best players. They’re the ones that have been in the big moments.”   

Paluch led the Jacks with 14 points while Heiser and Waytashek each finished with 11. Despite battling foul trouble, Boever finished with nine. Hannah Strop scored seven and pulled out a team-high of seven rebounds. Kerri Young also landed points for the Jacks.

Although being outrebounded by one, the Jacks outshot Denver 44.2 percent to 35.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent to 26.7 percent on threes. Although struggling at the free throw line where they shot only 66.7 percent, the Jacks still made 24 appearances to just nine by the Pioneers.