MANKATO, MINN. The No. 23 UMD women’s basketball team scored a signature victory on Saturday, upsetting No. 5 Minnesota State on the road by a score of 78-75. The victory propels the Bulldogs to 13-2 overall. UMD’s perfect NSIC record was tested by the best the league has to offer, and it remained unblemished. The Bulldogs are now 10-0 in conference play.
A storyline that made itself clear right away is that the Mavericks were not going to give the Bulldog offense any extra time to get in rhythm. From the opening tip, Minnesota State ran an all-out press, something Concordia had seen success with a night prior. On Saturday, Early signs indicated that the Bulldogs would be able to weather it a little better. It was UMD that jumped out to the first two-score lead of the contest at 6-2 off of back-to-back triples from Ella Gilbertson and Brooke Olson, the latter coming at the 8:20 mark. But it wouldn’t be long before the Mavericks had stormed back to snag a lead of their own with a Joey Batt layup to make it 8-9 with 6:18 remaining. Minnesota State would hold some form of a lead until the end of the quarter. It peaked at seven on a few occasions, last at a score of 19-12 with just 3:35 left. This didn’t stop the Bulldogs from building up momentum, though. UMD took those three minutes and change and maximized them, scoring six straight points to pull to within a point at 19-18 with just 32 seconds left. A Natalie Bremer layup as time expired would end the Bulldogs’ uncontested run, but her Mavericks now led by just three going into the second frame at a score of 21-18.
As a team, UMD enjoyed a hyper-efficient first outing. The Bulldogs shot 8-13 from the field, a 61.5% shooting percentage.
It wouldn’t take all that long for UMD to be rewarded for the kind of shooting night it was having. The Bulldogs took what turned into a five-point deficit right at the start of the second quarter and flipped it on its head with a huge 9-2 run. Olson scored the first four, Maeysn Thiesen chipped in a layup and Taytum Rhoades capped things off with a huge three-ball. By the stretch’s end, the score sat at 27-25 UMD with 6:34 until the break. This was the Bulldogs’ first lead since a score of 8-7 at the 7:40 mark of quarter one.
But the Mavericks didn’t go anywhere- in fact, they only turned up the intensity. MSU had already been vindicated in their defensive efforts with three steals in the first frame- in the span of less than two minutes, they’d snag three more. Molly Ithle would yoink one with 6:06 left that would soon turn into points on the other end to even the score. At the 4:52 mark, Bremer would pick up a steal of her own that she’d take to the house herself to reestablish an MSU lead at 29-27. Not long after at 4:48, it was Bremer again playing the role of swiper. This wouldn’t translate into points for the Mavericks right away, as Bremer was fouled on the floor to force a MSU inbound. The Mavericks would cash in on that opportunity with a layup, though, retaking a two-score lead at 31-27 with 4:31 left in the second.
It’d been a huge swing for the Mavericks generated by a strong employment of what’d been working for them so far in the game. To get out of this hole, the Bulldogs went with a similar strategy, focusing on one of their own strengths of the day: pure shooting prowess.
Just 29 seconds after Minnesota State’s steal streak came to an end, Kaylee Nelson was on the other end of the court draining a three for UMD. And 38 seconds after that, a familiar name in the world of big shots from beyond the arc in Rhoades sank her second three of the quarter to put the Bulldogs back up two at 33-31. The clock now sitting at 3:24, it’d taken UMD a hair over a minute to dig itself all the way back up to an advantage.
No real use for a shovel when you’re back up to the surface- time to trade those out for ladders.
At the 2:26 mark, the game sat even at 35 a pop. It was a score rather fitting for a game that had been a back-and-fourth affair most of the way. But teams only trade blows until one of them throws a haymaker- that’s what UMD decided to do before it headed into the break. With just that 2:26 on the clock to work with, the Bulldogs ran out on a humongous 10-0 unanswered run. It was sparked by Taya Hakamaki completing a gutsy three-point play at the line and capped off by Nelson’s second three-ball of the afternoon. Forget needing all that clock, actually- UMD completed this run in 1:36 of playing time. Minnesota State would pot a pair of free throws to cut the deficit back down to single digits at 45-37 going into halftime, but momentum still swung heavily in the Bulldogs’ favor.
Olson was sensational for UMD in the second frame, leading the team with eight points on perfect 4-4 shooting from the field. Nelson and Rhoades each scored six on 2-4 and 2-3 shooting respectively. Each paired their totals with a pair of assists, too. Rhoades also had four rebounds. UMD again enjoyed stellar shooting as a unit in frame two. The team went 10-17 (58.8%) from the field and 4-9 (44.4%) from deep. The Bulldogs did this while holding Minnesota State to just 7-19 (36.8%) shooting overall and 0-4 shooting from deep.
Both Olson and Rhoades entered the second half with double-digit points on the day. Rhoades had a team-high 12 points on 5-7 shooting overall while going 2-3 from three-point land. Olson had 11 while missing just one shot in the process, having gone 5-6 () from the field. Both Bulldogs had two assists. Rhoades had six rebounds while Olson had five. The team shot 18-30 through 20 minutes, a 60% shooting percentage. It went an even 6-12 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Minnesota State was shooting just 15-38 (39.5%) and 3-11 (27.3%) from deep.
The control the Bulldogs had taken over this contest proved itself to be break-proof. Once UMD’s lead quickly jumped to 11 at the 9:21 mark when an Olson three made it 48-37, the Bulldogs’ lead wouldn’t dip below double-digits for the rest of the quarter. And it seemed as if UMD was only getting stronger with time, too, as their advantage peaked late in the frame at a score of 68-52 with just 53 seconds remaining off of another Olson two-pointer. MSU’s Destinee Bursch was able to trim things down to just 14 seven seconds before the closing buzzer of the third, but it seemed like the damage had already been done. UMD’s offense was simply humming right along- make that another quarter of above 50% shooting as a team with an 8-14 (57.1%) effort. And tally another impressive quarter for Olson, who closed the third with nine points on 4-6 (66.7%) shooting. Hakamaki had done good work at the line to register seven points in the frame, having gone 5-6 from the stripe.
And all the while, UMD provided absolutely no relief on the defensive end. Mankato again shot sub-40% from the field, going 6-16 (37.5%). The team went just 2-6 from deep. The Bulldogs had outscored the Mavericks 23-17 in the third after routing them 27-16 in the second. Things could’ve been looking better for the home team.
Then the fourth quarter came along to shatter just about every convention that had been established through 30 minutes.
It took the Mavericks just 1:04 into the final frame to cut the lead down to single digits at 68-59. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had gotten just one shot off in this time- an Olson miss. Oh well- that’s why you build a big lead. But even the largest of advantages can only last for so long if they aren’t fortified at all. Once UMD did start managing a few more attempts, the shots just weren’t falling. The Bulldogs’ lone points across the first five minutes of the fourth came off of two makes at the line from Hakamaki at the 6:50 mark. Meanwhile… it felt like MSU couldn’t miss. All of the sudden, with just 4:33 to play, Taylor Theusch found herself at the line with a chance to not only tie the game for the Mavericks but, somehow, to take the lead. She sank both attempts. 71-70 Mavericks. It was a 27-2 run that eventually grew to 29-2 when Emily Russo popped in a layup at the 2:40 mark to make it 73-70. At quite literally the worst possible time, the tide of this game had shifted violently- and fast.
It would’ve been easy for the Bulldogs to see their lead disappear in the midst of shooting struggles and throw their hands up in the air in defeat- what more could they do? UMD had done just about everything you could’ve asked it to do through three quarters only to find themselves in this position. Alas, that’s just how this sport can work sometimes- and the Bulldogs clearly understood this. Rather than admit defeat, UMD stuck with it down the stretch. Points three and four of the quarter for the Bulldogs came by way of two Gilbertson makes at the stripe to cut MSU’s lead to one at 73-72 with 1:30 remaining. UMD’s first basket from the field in the frame sure was a big one- Nelson connected on a layup 28 seconds later off an Olson assist to regain the lead for the Bulldogs at 74-73. The Mavericks had little reason to bow down themselves at this point, though- they kept fighting. And with just 46 ticks remaining, Bursch sank a jumper to put MSU back out on top.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At the 33 second mark… Nelson. From Olson. Again. 76-75 Bulldogs. And when MSU couldn’t find an answer on the other end, it had to send- who else- but Olson to the line, the threat of a three-point lead looming. Olson did what she’d done all game long and took care of business, draining both attempts at the stripe to push the advantage to 78-75 with just three seconds left.
It’d been a tough quarter for the Bulldogs- but it wouldn’t be buzzer-beating circus shot tough. UMD was able to hold on to take a monumental victory over No. 5 Mankato 78-75.
In what was a showcase of the best the uber-talented conference has to offer, Olson again showed in the second half why she leads the NSIC in scoring. The graduate forward put up 11 more points through 18 more minutes of playing time. But she also proved that she’s far more than just a scorer- Olson paired her points in the half with six rebounds and three assists. All three of those marks led the team. Gilbertson wasn’t far behind on the scoring front though, adding to her totals with nine points on 7-8 shooting from the line.
It should come as little surprise that Olson’s numbers to close the contest read like something out of a video game. A total of 22 points on 9-16 (52.9%) shooting. Make it a double-double with 11 boards, too. And how about a team-high (and season-high) five assists, as well? With sprinkles of a steal and a block.
But Olson was far from alone in UMD’s efforts to snag the upset. Three other Bulldogs tallied double figures on the day. Gilbertson and Rhoades each had 14, the former’s coming primarily on 9-10 free-throw shooting with the latter operating at a clip of 6-11 (54.5%) from the field. Each had three assists for the game, too. Rhoades even had nine rebounds. And of course there was Nelson, who had 10 points on a precise 4-6 shooting from the field. Don’t forget Hakamaki, who paired nine points with a team-high three steals.
Even through a tough shooting outing in frame four, the Bulldogs still shot 51.9% from the field on the day, going 28-54. The UMD defense held MSU to just 5-18 (27.8%) shooting from deep.
The Mavericks were led by Bursch, who had 15 points on 7-15 (46.7%) shooting to pair with a game-high six assists. Batt and Bremer also crossed double figures with 14 and 10 points respectively.
POST–GAME FROM PEARSON
You know the story of the tortoise and the hare, right?
This might not be a perfect employment of that tale, but bear with me
Imagine the two parties involved as two different versions of UMD in two different run-throughs of Saturday’s contest. The first trial: a full-court press, something that’s given the Bulldogs trouble before. A hare-like UMD might have tried to rapidly push the envelope against this defensive scheme, something that could have easily led to sloppy results. Instead, UMD invoked the tortoise. Maybe this entire paragraph sounds crazy, but read what UMD head coach Mandy Pearson had to say.
“I felt like our players did a really good job tonight of slowing down to get some really good shots throughout the course of the game against Mankato’s pressure,” Pearson said. “They were poised and patient against a defense that really speeds you up.”
See? It kind of works. So, let’s keep it going.
Picture our honorary Duluthian tortoise and hare friends in the spot that UMD found itself in in the fourth quarter. The less-disciplined hare might have started to act out of desperation, even frustration. Alas, the tortoise won out once again.
Pearson credited UMD’s ability to see out the fourth quarter to the team being able to ground itself even in the face of its hardships.
“Runs happen in every game – I could tell by looking at the players on the floor that they were not panicked at all,” Pearson said. “They focused on the things they could control by playing tough defense, rebounding and still remaining patient offensively while working together.”
Perhaps no player rode the team-tortoise wave more on Saturday than Olson.
There’s no doubt that the graduate forward’s numbers pop off the page, but it should be made clear that they wouldn’t have been possible without the connective work of each Bulldog that found themselves on the court throughout the day. An offense is a system- good players can help it flow better, but without a firm foundation, it’d be hard for anyone to get anything going.
And that’s what Pearson admired most about Olson’s play, really the play of the team, on Saturday- that ability to develop and maintain overall stability.
“Brooke was super tough tonight,” Pearson said. “After our guards would be patient enough against their press, the ball would eventually get to Brooke. She did a great job of continuing that patience through double teams to make the right plays, whether that was attacking the rim, kicking the ball or finding an open cutter. It was really fun to watch our entire team just work really well together tonight.”
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