ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- On a night when its normally strong outside shooting struggled, the Navy women's basketball team scored a season-high 38 points in the paint to carry the Mids to a 61-42 victory over American Wednesday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
The result moves the records for both teams to 3-1 in Patriot League play. Additionally, it marked the end of American's 18-game Patriot League regular season winning streak. The last time the Eagles had lost a league regular season game was Feb. 23, 2011, when Navy defeated American in Alumni Hall. Between that setback and tonight, the Eagles also had lost a pair of league tournament games, including the 2011 championship game to Navy in Annapolis.
"American is a tough matchup," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "They do a nice job offensively. They are hard to guard and make us really work. Defensively, they usually show a lot of full-court stuff and pressure, so I'm just thrilled with our turnover numbers and how we managed to outrebound them, even with giving up a lot of offensive boards. But offensively, for us to have three players in double figures is really nice."
American (10-8 overall) scored the first points of the game on a jumper by Arron Zimmerman just 12 seconds into the contest. Navy (10-9 on the season) countered on its ensuing possession with a layup by Kara Pollinger (Jr., Fort Gay, W.Va.). One minute later, a free throw by Alix Membreno (Jr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) gave the Mids a lead it would hold on to for the remaining 38 minutes of the game.
The Navy advantage was 9-8 when the Mids scored eight-straight points to build a slight cushion over the Eagles. Jade Geif (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.) started the run for the Mids with a layup off of a nice pass from Membreno. A little more than 90 seconds later, Audrey Bauer (Jr., Lake Zurich, Ill.) connected on a jumper to make the score 13-8 in favor of the Mids with 6:55 left to play in the half. A Geif steal led to Pollinger being fouled while in the act of shooting. She would make just one of two attempts from the line. It took over two more minutes of play before either team could score, but Chloe Stapleton (So., Cary, N.C.) extended the Navy run with the first three-point field goal of the game that gave the Mids a 17-9 lead with 4:19 remaining in the half.
Sarah Kiely ended the five-minute scoring drought for the Eagles with a jumper, but that was followed by Geif making the first of two free throw attempts. She would miss the second attempt, but Bauer snared the offensive carom for the Mids. That led to Membreno again finding Geif open inside the paint for a short jumper that took the Navy lead out to double figures at 20-10. The Navy advantage would soon reach 12 points when M.L. Morrison (Jr., Southlake, Texas) connected on a jumper with 44 seconds left in the half. An old-fashioned three-point play by Stephanie Anya closed out the scoring in the half and resulted in Navy taking a 24-15 lead at the break.
Navy made just 1 of its 8 (12.5%) three-point attempts in the half, but was 9 of 18 (50.0%) in its two-point attempts in the first half. Conversely, American was 0 of 4 from three-point range, 7 of 27 (25.9%) in its two-point attempts and shot a combined 22.6 percent from the field. Navy also held a 23-19 edge on the glass. This is despite American snaring 12 offensive rebounds, which led to only four second-chance points for the Eagles.
The second half began with American missing a three-point attempt that was hauled in by Pollinger. Pollinger would eventually connect on a layup on the other end of the floor to start the second half scoring. Alexis Dobbs put the Eagles on the scoreboard in the second half with a jumper, but that was followed by back-to-back layups from Geif to push the Navy lead out to 30-17 less than three minutes into the frame. One minute later, Membreno scored on a layup and foul shot to boost the advantage for the Mids out to 14 points at 33-19 with 16:41 showing on the clock.
Navy's lead remained in double figures until back-to-back layups by the Eagles sliced the margin down to 41-33 with 8:13 remaining in the game. After a Navy timeout, the Mids responded with Geif scoring on an inside move to take the cushion back out to double figures at 43-33. A little more than two minutes later, another Geif post move made the score 45-33 with 5:35 left on the clock. The Navy advantage would be at least 11 points over the remainder of the game.
"Basketball is a game of runs," said Membreno. "I expected it to get closer than it was (early in the second half). Thankfully it didn't get closer. We just really wanted to win the game, so we focused on trying to attack, trying to score, playing defense and not get too caught up in the score."
Navy was once again just 1 of 8 from three-point range in the second half, but was even more effective in its two-point attempts after halftime. The Mids were 13 of 19 (68.4%) in their two-point field goal attempts in the final 20 minutes of play. In all, Navy made 51.9 percent of its shots in the second half to end the game with a combined effort from the floor of 45.3 percent. Defensively in the game, the Mids held American to 1 of 11 (9.1%) shooting from three-point land and to a 29.0-percent effort in all shots taken from the field.
"We were able to get to the basket," said Pemper, "whether it was on backdoor cuts or basket cuts. It is rare we are going to beat a good team shooting as we did in our three-point shots. We handled their pressure pretty well, and that was key."
The Mids finished the game with a slight edge on the glass, 41-39, even though American grabbed 20 offensive rebounds to 14 for Navy. But just as was the case in the first half, those 20 offensive rebounds led to just nine second-chance points for the Eagles in the game. Conversely, Navy tallied 11 second-chance points after its 14 offensive caroms.
"We had a really good game plan tonight from the coaches," said Geif. "We had a great scout from the coaches and they really prepared us well. We knew who we could double and who we could sag off on. Then we communicated really well."
"Our defense was really tough," said Pemper. "You have to really work with your feet and contain. They have so many athletic kids who are good at driving. It seemed like we always had someone in there contesting so they didn't have many clean looks at their second chance shots.
"(Offensively) they had so much pressure on the perimeter we actually had some nice action in going to the basket. Kara had a couple of layups, Alix had a couple, obviously Jade did well. We did a nice job of getting her the ball and she finished pretty well. Their pressure allowed those backdoor courts. And we had the chance to post Alix up. I also was really pleased with how M.L. played. This may have been her most productive minutes all season,"
Both teams committed 11 turnovers on the night, but those miscues led to Navy scoring 11 points and American tallying just four points.
Membreno led all players in the game with 17 points -- her fourth-consecutive game with 10 or more points -- while also grabbing five rebounds, dishing out five assists and recording two steals.
Geif entered the game having connected on 64.3 percent of her shots in five career games against American, while averaging 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds a game against the Eagles. She would improve upon those numbers tonight as she made 7 of 10 shots from the floor while totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Joining Membreno and Geif in double figures was Pollinger, who tallied 13 points to go along with six rebounds.
Geleisa George scored 13 points for American, with her teammate Kiely connecting on 5 of 7 shots from the floor to total 10 points in just 19 minutes of playing time.
Navy will take to the road for its next two games, a Saturday game at Colgate and a Jan. 30 game at Lehigh.