ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Kara Pollinger (Jr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) scored 10 points during a game-closing 20-3 run to spark the Navy women's basketball team to a 61-40 victory over Bucknell Saturday night in Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
The victory improves Navy's record in Patriot League play to 6-1. The Mids are alone in first place in the standings at the midpoint of league play.
"We are feeling great where we are," said Pollinger, "but we are not at all content."
Meanwhile, the loss drops Bucknell's record to 4-3 against league foes.
"I thought we communicated pretty well on defense," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "I think we are getting a lot of trust in our defense in what people are going to do, so it doesn't have to come from one person."
Navy led by just one point -- 11-10 -- seven minutes into the contest when Jade Geif (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.) scored five points over a pair of possessions to give the Mids a 16-10 advantage. Geif first scored on an inside move in the paint. Pollinger grabbed a defensive carom on the other end of the floor, then fed Geif inside again for a twisting layup while being fouled. A little more than one minute later, Chloe Stapleton (So., Cary, N.C.) stole the ball and assisted on a Pollinger layup, then promptly stole the ball again and took it the rest of the way for a layup of her own. Bucknell missed a pair of shots on its next possession, then Stapleton drilled a three-point field goal to cap a 12-0 run by the Mids that gave them a 23-10 lead with 9:35 showing on the clock.
The teams would go into the locker room with Navy holding a 36-27 advantage.
Geif and Stapleton combined to connect on 9 of 11 shots from the field and tally 21 of Navy's 36 first-half points. Geif was 5 of 6 from the floor in scoring 11 points, while Stapleton was 2 of 2 from three-point range and 4 of 5 in all of her attempts to score 10 points. Stapleton also added three steals in the first 20 minutes of play.
Both offenses struggled at the start of the second half. The Mids scored just three points -- on a three-point shot by Audrey Bauer (Jr., Lake Zurich, Ill.) -- in the first six-plus minutes of play, but the Bison scored just six points in that time, which allowed Navy to maintain a 39-33 edge. A jumper by Geif gave the Mids a 41-33 lead, but the Bison scored the ensuing four points to close to within 41-37 with 9:55 left in the game.
Pollinger answered with a three-point field goal on Navy's next possession to give the Mids a little breathing room. Then Bucknell's Shelby Romine drew the fourth foul on Geif and the post player who had scored 13 points and snared six rebounds was sent to the bench with 9:38 remaining in the game. After Romine made one of her two free throw attempts, both teams failed to score on their next respective trip down the floor. Navy's ensuing possession saw Pollinger drill another three pointer to boost the lead out to 47-38 with 8:25 left on the clock. Another missed shot by Bucknell was followed by Stapleton drilling her third triple of the night.
Felicia Mgbada scored for the Bison at the 7:27 mark to make the score 50-40 in favor of the Mids. That would prove to be the final points tallied by Bucknell in the game. M.L. Morrison (Jr., Southlake, Texas) grabbed her own missed shot and tallied two points on the putback on Navy's next possession, then a steal and layup by Pollinger made the score 54-40. Stapleton gathered in an errant shot by Bucknell, which led to another driving layup by Pollinger that boosted Navy's lead out to 56-40 with 6:15 left to play.
Following Romine's free throw attempts with 9:20 left to play, Bucknell missed 12 of its last 13 attempts from the field while turning the ball over five times. Conversely, Pollinger's triple with 9:38 remaining sparked the Mids to 8 of 14 shooting from the floor -- Pollinger alone was 4 of 5 -- over the remainder of the game while committing just two turnovers.
The 27 points Navy allowed Bucknell to score in the first half was the most a league opponent has scored against the Mids in the first half this season. Navy's defense then held the Bison to just 13 second-half points, which is fewest points allowed by a Navy team in a league regular season game in school history, as well as the No. 6 mark in any Navy game.
"Our post players did a nice job of switching on some ball screens and kind of containing their drive," said Pemper. "They do a nice job of getting to the basket with their ball screens, so we had to play good ball screen defense against them. And we did a pretty good job against their motion offense too. Our defense was great. To hold them to 40 points is pretty good."
Pollinger, who entered the game having tallied 16 points, five assists and zero steals in five career games against Bucknell, recorded 16 points, five assists and three steals this evening.
"The cool thing about this team is that my teammates hit shots and pick me up when I am down," said Pollinger. "Tonight I did the same thing for them."
"Kara was terrific," said Pemper. "Right at the point where things were not going well, when Jade was missing and then picked up a couple of fouls, I had mentioned to Kara a couple of openings in our offense that she could exploit, and she did. And obviously people got her the ball with some really nice passes."
Pollinger was one of three Mids to score in double figures -- Geif and Stapleton both scored 13 -- and one of four Mids to record multiple steals. Stapleton swiped four steals for the second-straight game and third time in the last four games, with Bauer and Geif both adding a pair of steals to Navy's tally.
"Our players have had a really nice focus," said Pemper. "Tonight we had some adversity we hadn't faced in awhile with Alix Membreno (Jr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) and Audrey not having as nice of games as they have been having. That's two of our five starters. It kind of happened in about a 10 minute span of the game. If this were a non-league game, we would have lost. Then you have Jade coming out of the game with fouls. This was a really nice win."
Bucknell's Lindsay Horbatuck notched a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Bison in both categories.
Navy will open the second half of league play Feb. 9 when the Mids play at Lafayette. The Leopards have won each of their last three games since starting the league season with a 0-4 record.
Patriot League Standings
1. 6-1 Navy
T2. 5-2 American
T2. 5-2 Army
4. 4-3 Bucknell
T5. 3-4 Holy Cross
T5. 3-4 Lafayette
7. 2-5 Lehigh
8. 0-7 Colgate