ANNAPOLIS, Md. - After letting all but two points of a 20-point lead disappear, the Navy women's basketball team closed its game Monday night against Air Force on a 16-6 run to post a 71-59 victory over the Falcons at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
"We really gutted it out tonight," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper, who improved to 7-3 in service academy games. "It was a nice job by our team to weather the storm of the run Air Force made at us. I'm really happy for our team to come away with a great win.
"And what a great atmosphere to play a game in tonight. The crowd (3,021) was awesome and everyone was really into it. These service academy games are special nights."
Navy (2-3) put together its best start to a game on the young season. The Mids scored the opening 10 points of the game and jumped out to an 18-6 lead just eight minutes into the first half. Keying the effort for the Mids at the start of the game was Jade Geif (So., Lakeville, Minn.), who connected on four of her first five shots from the floor on the way to scoring 12 of Navy's first 18 points. The Mids would build an 18-point lead at 27-9 before expanding it to 20 points at 34-14 with 4:36 remaining in the half. The lead would again grow to 20 points at 38-18 before the teams went into the locker rooms at halftime with Navy holding a 40-25 advantage.
The Mids shot 46.7 percent (14-30) from the field in the first half while Air Force (3-4), which started the game by missing its first eight attempts from the field, shot 28.1 percent (9-32).
Geif tallied 16 of Navy's first half points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and a 6-of-8 effort from the foul line. She also added five rebounds over the opening 20 minutes of play. Geif would tally another field goal on the first possession of the second half, but then Air Force began to quickly slice away at the margin with its full-court pressure defense.
The gap between the teams reached single digits at 44-35, then it was whittled down to six points at 47-41 with 12:32 remaining on the clock. Following Navy's fifth turnover over the second half -- which came on the heels of the Mids committing just six turnovers in the entire first half -- a free throw from Dymond James cut the difference between the teams down to three points at 50-47 with 11:17 still left to play.
The Mids went back inside to Geif on their next trip down the floor, and she was fouled while attempting a shot. Geif would make just the first of her two attempts from the charity stripe to make it a four-point game, then, after Audrey Bauer (So., Lake Zurich, Ill.) recorded a blocked shot for the Mids, Alix Membreno (So., Loxahatchee, Fla.) scored on a layup to give Navy a 53-47 lead with 10:26 showing on the clock. The margin would again be six points at 55-49 when Alicia Leipprandt scored back-to-back buckets for Air Force, her fifth and sixth, respectively, field goals of the second half, to make it a two-point game at 55-53 with 6:24 left to play.
Navy's ensuing possession saw Chey Arvin (Jr., Noblesville, Ind.) drill a three-point field goal to boost the gap back to five points. Neither team scored on either of their next two possessions, then a Bauer steal of Leipprandt led to her knocking down a jump shot to give the Mids a 60-53 cushion with just under four minutes remaining.
Katie Hilbig would score a field goal on the Air Force end of the court, but Bauer hit another jumper on the Navy end to make it a seven-point game (62-55) with 3:19 showing on the clock. The teams would trade turnovers, then Geif recorded a block on Hilbig and that led to Bauer feeding Geif for an inside shot to boost the Navy lead to nine points (64-55) with 2:22 left to play.
"Audrey hit some huge shots down the stretch," said Pemper. "They really put the game away for us. But she wasn't the only one who made plays for us late in the game on both ends of the floor when we needed them."
An Air Force turnover was followed by Kara Pollinger (So., Fort Gay, W.Va.) sinking a pair of free throws to give Navy a double-digit lead at 66-55 with just 1:50 remaining in the game. The Navy cushion would remain in double figures for the remainder of the contest.
"I think the story of the second half was that we got tired and we couldn't attack their press the same way we had in the first half," said Pemper. "To attack a press you have stretch the defense, go long, sprint, and essentially make a backdoor cut and when you are tired you don't want to do that. We didn't have a senior on the floor tonight, so we were already a young team and I felt I couldn't make the lineup any younger than it already was due to its inexperience. That meant a number of players just had to stay out there."
Both teams made 24 field goals on the night, but the Mids made four three-point field goals to just one for the Falcons and converted 19-of-31 free throw attempts to an 11-of-19 night from the foul line for Air Force.
Navy did turn the ball over nine times in the second half to end the night with 15 turnovers, but that was just one more turnover than Air Force committed for the game. Navy also finished with eight blocked shots to just one for the Falcons.
Geif notched her second double-double of the season with a career-high 21 points to go along with 12 caroms and three blocks. Her rebounding and blocked shot tallies were one shy, respectively, of tying her career-best effort for both statistics. Bauer finished the night with a career-high 15 points, five rebounds and a career-best three blocks. The Geif-Bauer tandem finished the game connecting on 13-of-19 field goal attempts.
Also having strong games for the Mids were Pollinger, Membreno and Arvin. One game after tallying a career-high 16 points against Mount St. Mary's, Pollinger contributed 14 points for Navy tonight. Meanwhile, Membreno tallied eight points and eight rebounds with Arvin adding eight points, a career-high seven assists and five caroms.
One year ago as freshmen, Navy's Class of 2014 tallied 35 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists in helping the Mids to a 63-62 victory over Air Force. Tonight as sophomores, Bauer, Geif, Membreno and Pollinger combined for 58 points, 27 rebounds, 12 assists and six blocked shots.
Leipprandt connected on 12-of-25 field goal attempts to lead all players in the game with 26 points and lead the Falcons with eight rebounds and three steals. She made eight of her 14 field goal attempts after halftime in scoring 15 second-half points. Her teammate James added 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Mids will return to Alumni Hall this weekend to play host to the Navy Classic. Friday's schedule has George Washington facing Maine at 3:30 p.m., to be followed by Navy playing host to Houston Baptist at 6 p.m. Saturday's slate of games will see Navy taking on Maine at 3:30 p.m. and George Washington challenging Houston Baptist at 6 p.m.