Even when its nine-point third-quarter lead turned into a two-point deficit early in the fourth quarter, the UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team never thought it was going to lose.
These days, the Blugolds expect to win every game.
A quick 9-0 run in a two-minute span put the Blugolds in control for good, and they stayed unbeaten with a 68-64 win over Northwestern-St. Paul in nonconference action Saturday night at Zorn Arena.
Anna Graaskamp scored 25 points to lead the way for the Blugolds, who improved to 7-0. Despite a starting lineup that features four sophomores and junior, the quick start to the year is not surprising to a team with big expectations.
“We came into this season hungry,” Graaskamp said. “We wanted to get on a roll and keep winning. It’s great that we’re doing that, but we just have to focus on the next game.”
Graaskamp has been key offensively to the Blugolds’ quick start to the year, and nothing changed Saturday. Despite facing a zone defense that smothered her most of the night, Graaskamp found ways to score. She was strong in the paint and lethal with a mid-range jumper. And when Northwestern-St. Paul had all the momentum early in the fourth, the Blugolds turned to Grasskamp, who scored the first four points of the run that proved to be the difference.
“I’ll give credit to this team. They understand that Graas needs the ball, especially in key situations,” Blugolds coach Tonja Englund said.
Kayla Hanley scored 11 points and Kelsey Bakken had 10 for the Blugolds, who shot 48 percent from the floor despite making just 4 of 19 shots from beyond the arc. Offensive fireworks have been key to the hot start for UW-Eau Claire, which is averaging 69 points per game.
“We have a lot of weapons offensively, but that’s not the type of coach I am,” Englund said. “We’re going to get stops, and we’re going to be gritty defensively. There has to be more of a let’s get stops on the defensive end mentality that we haven’t developed yet.”
It was the defense though that created separation midway through the third quarter. Bakken came up with a steal and layup on back-to-back possession to put the Blugolds up 38-29, but Northwestern-St. Paul came storming back to take a 48-46 lead early in the fourth.
That’s when Graaskamp hit a jumper from the short corner and a left-handed hook shot in the paint. Jenni LaCroix followed with a 3, and Hanley ended the run with a jumper for the Blugolds, who solved a pesky 2-3 zone with 40 second-half points.
“In the fourth quarter, it was really key to punch gaps in the zone, make the extra pass,” Hanley said. “We hit a lot of open shots. We were calling it out and hitting our teammates.”
Two late turnovers by the UW-Eau Claire nearly gave Northwestern-St. Paul a chance late, but LaCroix hit a free throw with six seconds left to ice the win for the Blugolds, who are hoping this quick start will help them later in the season.
“We know the strength of the (WIAC) is always going to be rock solid,” Englund said. “These early nonconference games are often times really important when it comes to getting into the NCAA tournament.”