Cougars women go 8-0 in December
For the St. Xavier women’s basketball team, December has been an undefeated month — which was capped off this weekend with a pair of victories at the two-day SXU Holiday Classic at the Shannon Center in Chicago.
The Cougars began the tournament with 76-66 victory over Ashford University on Saturday and followed that up with a 70-48 win over Lourdes University of Ohio on Sunday to extend their current winning streak to eight games and an 8-0 mark in December.
In the win over Ashford, junior forward Morgan Stuut scored 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the No. 8-ranked SXU. Stuut posted team-bests of 16 points, 19 rebounds, four steals and two blocks in the victory over Lourdes University.
But what has been a hallmark in the Cougars 13-3 season, as well as in the two weekend wins, is the continued contributions from multiple players. A total of 11 players scored against Lourdes, and nine players scored against Ashford.
“We’re very pleased with the way we’re playing,” St. Xavier coach Bob Hallberg said. “A lot of people are contributing to our success — whether it’s two points or six points. We have a lot of playing coming off the bench and playing well.
“Morgan’s 32 point-10 rebound performance was big. We’re 13-3 right now, and we’re happy to be there going into the new year. We shot the ball pretty well at times this week. It looks like we have the makings of a good season if we keep playing well.”
On Saturday, the Cougars frustrated the visiting Saints with tough defense, which helped lead to 17 Ashford turnovers. Stuut has now topped the 30-point threshold three times this season and posted 10 double-doubles.
Junior guard Suzie Broski was the other St. Xavier player to reach double figures in scoring with 14 points to go along with her five rebounds. Senior point guard Jordan Brandt had a solid all-around game with five assists, four rebounds and three steals; while senior forward Chrissy Heine provided a lift off the bench with six points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
The Cougars struggled early falling behind by nine points, 16-7, in the opening seven minutes of action. However, the team used a 14-5 run to tie the game, 21-21, at the 8:27 mark of the first half. The Cougars finished the final five minutes of the frame strong as well scoring 15 points over the stretch to build a 43-34 halftime lead.
St. Xavier, despite falling behind to open the game, led by double figures for a majority of the second half with the Saints unable to get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“We were down 16-7 and bounced back,” Hallberg said. “It’s one of those slow starts that I really have no answer for. But whenever we do fall behind, we do much better job of turning around and upping our intensity level.
“We’re doing it with defense. It’s not just winning by the margin we won — but it’s also what you have to battle back from. It was a good turnaround by the team.”
On Sunday, the Cougars held the Gray Wolves to just 29 percent shooting (17-for-59) from the field and used 12 steals to help force 18 turnovers. After the game, Stuut was named to the Classic’s all-tournament team.
Senior point guard Niara Harris converted six of her seven shot attempts on the day for 13 points for the Cougars, while Broski chipped in 10 points and four rebounds. Senior point guard Jordan Brandt hit a pair of three-pointers en route to eight points and two steals.
St. Xavier also received production from its bench Sunday, with 29 of its 70 points coming from the reserves. The Cougars also took full advantage of the turnovers by Lourdes scoring 29 points off the miscues.
Three-pointers by freshmen Meaghan McMahon and Mikayla Leyden highlighted a 10-1 run by the Cougars to open the game. The Gray Wolves crept back and closed to within a basket, 16-14, with just over eight minutes to play in the half.
However, St. Xavier closed out the frame strong outscoring Lourdes, 26-8 over the final eight minutes to build a 42-22 halftime advantage. The Cougars shot 50 percent from the field (17-for-34) in the first half, which included seven three-pointers. The second half was more of the same as the team extended its lead as high as 28 points and held at least a 20-point edge for most of the frame.
“I was able to play 12 people, and 11 out of 12 scored,” Hallberg said. “Naira Harris was off the bench. Somebody different seems to sparking us every game. We always have consistency out of Susie and Morgan, too.
“It was total team effort today. We were 9-for 25-three point land (36 percent), which is pretty good. All in all, it was a good December.”
St. Xavier returns to action and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference play on Wednesday, with a 5 p.m. home game against Trinity Christian College.
“We’re playing good basketball, but I have to get the girls to understand that we’re not going to blow out every team that we play. We have a lot of conference ball games — Cardinal Stritch, Purdue Calumet, Robert Morris, Roosevelt — and we need to keep focused and playing well. It’s a tight schedule… We have eight home games and seven away.”