Women’s Basketball Holds Off Air Force
ANNAPOLIS, Md. –– A big first half provided the Navy women’s basketball team just enough comfort level to defeat Air Force 71-64 Wednesday evening at Alumni Hall in Annapolis. The Mids improved to 4-0 on the year with the win –– the first 4-0 start for the program in eight years –– and the Falcons saw their record fall to 0-5 with the loss.
“Obviously always happy with a win,” said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. “And to beat The Air Force Academy is important.”
The lead went back-and-forth several times in the opening few minutes of the game. Navy went on a 6-0 run to take an 11-6 lead before Air Force closed to 11-8 on a layup with 5:19 left in the first quarter. The would be the last field goal made by the Falcons for the next 13:10. Navy ended the first quarter on an 11-2 run and opened the second stanza with an 8-0 spurt to build a 30-10 lead with 5:27 still to play before halftime. The margin would grow to as many as 21 points (33-12) before Air Force made a field goal with 2:09 left that ended its shooting drought from the floor and made the score 36-18. Navy would go into halftime holding a 38-22 advantage.
Navy shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the first half, which included a 6-9 (66.7%) effort from three-point range. Defensively, the Mids held Air Force to 27.8 percent shooting from the floor, which was aided by Navy recording nine steals and forcing 18 turnovers. The Mids did turn the ball over 10 times in the half themselves, but still held a 16-9 edge in points scored after turnovers.
The second half became an exchange of runs. Air Force whittled the 16-point halftime margin down to 12 (42-30, 5:31), then Navy went on an 8-0 run to again build a 20-point lead (50-30, 4:23). The Falcons answered that charge by scoring nine unanswered points to slice the difference down to 11 points (50-39, 2:08) before the teams went to their respective benches at the end of the third quarter with Navy in front 54-42.
Navy scored the opening hoop of the fourth quarter (54-42), but Air Force quickly made it a single-digit game at 59-50 with 4:56 still to play. It remained single digits for all of 13 seconds when Bianca Roach (Jr., Virginia Beach, Va.) scored on a layup on the other end of the court. After Air Force missed a shot on its ensuing possession, Roach had her shot blocked but grabbed the loose ball to keep possession on the Navy end of the floor. That led to Molly Sanders (Jr., Ames Iowa) draining a three-point shot. After another miss by the Falcons, Roach again grabbed an offensive board for the Mids and this led to Kaila Clark (So., Hughesville, Md.) being fouled. She would sink both foul shots to extend the Navy run out to seven-straight points and the lead for the Mids out to 16 at 66-50 with 3:09 left on the clock.
Air Force would go on to score the final five points of the game to cut the margin down to single digits.
“I was impressed with Air Force, honestly,” said Pemper. “The way they kept battling. They are on a long road trip and haven’t gotten their first win yet. I wish that we had played better. We just weren’t really sharp. We turned the ball over too much and fouled too much. That’s something they (Air Force) are pretty good at and we didn’t want them to do to us.
“We would extend the lead and then they would just keep fighting and cut it to 12 or 10. Our team defense wasn’t as great as we want it to be. We ended up with just the women on the court that we felt like gave us the best chance to defend them.”
The second half saw a flip in the shooting percentages for the two teams from the first half. Navy shot a still respectable 37.5 percent from the floor after halftime, but was just 3-9 (33.3%) from three-point land. On the other side of the floor, Air Force made 54.8 percent of its shots from the field after halftime including 61.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Navy remained in front thanks to successful free throw shooting as it made 8-10 foul shots in the fourth quarter and was 10-12 from the foul line overall in the second half.
Navy played 10 players in the game and all played at least 10 minutes, but none played more than 29 minutes. Air Force played 11 players, but each member of the team’s original starting five played at least 32 minutes. That allowed Navy to hold a 24-6 advantage in bench scoring.
“Tonight,” said Pemper, “I didn’t feel we were very deep in terms of team defense. We stayed with the same six women for most of the fourth quarter. I want to use our depth better than that. We have to have a little better focus, I think. We lost our focus a little. And then we were mad at ourselves and our players couldn’t snap out of their own frustration at themselves.”
Clark set a career high with 15 points in the game and added seven boards, two blocks and two steals. She was joined in double figures by Taylor Dunham (Sr., Fort Belvoir, Va.) with 14 points, which went along nicely with her three assists and three steals. Additionally, Roach accumulated eight points, a career-high seven rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.
Right in the middle of the second half runs that thwarted the Falcons was Mary Kate Ulasewicz (So., Doylestown, Pa.), who played half of the 20 minutes in the second half and scored all seven of her career-high tying seven points during that time.
“Really happy with M.K.,” said Pemper. “She was a real spark off the bench. She hit some big shots.”
Air Force had four players score in double figures. The Falcons were led by 19 points from Emily Conroe.
The Mids will remain in town this weekend to play host to the annual Navy Classic. Saturday’s slate has UMBC taking on St. Bonaventure Saturday at 1 p.m., with Navy playing host to North Dakota State at 3:15 p.m. A win by the Mids over the Bison would give them their first 5-0 start to a season since the 1997-98 campaign. This year’s Navy Classic features a tournament-style format, with both a championship game and a consolation game being played Sunday. Navy is locked into playing Sunday at 3:15 p.m. no matter which game it is playing in.