The No. 3-ranked Master’s University women’s basketball team opened the next chapter of its season against Olivet Nazarene University (IL) with a victory Saturday night.
Olivet Nazarene, an opponent that plays at one of the fastest, most frenetic, paces in the country, subbed in five fresh women every few minutes, and lived up to its billing Saturday inside the MacArthur Center, throwing everything it had at the Mustangs on the first day of the Jersey Mike’s Holiday Classic.
Master’s passed the test by flexing its muscle in the second and third quarters, overcoming an early deficit and staying unbeaten in a 90-77 win over the Tigers, who are ranked No. 20 in NAIA Division 2.
The Mustangs, an NAIA Division 1 team, improved to 14-0, their best start since 2012-2013, and ran their home winning streak to 18 games. They have now beaten six teams ranked in Division 1 or Division 2 this season.
Stephanie Soares recorded her third triple-double of the season with 24 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. Anika Neuman (19 points, five rebounds, four assists), Sabrina Thompson (11 points, six assists) and Rebekah Throns (10 points, six rebounds, four assists) also scored in double figures and contributed strong all-around performances.
Master’s trailed after the first quarter, turned the ball over 28 times in all and still reached at least 90 points for just the third time this year.
The Olivet Nazarene game was a stark contrast in style.
The Mustangs entered the day averaging 77 points a game, winning with efficiency and one of the nation’s best defenses. Olivet (11-4), on the other hand, had scored an average of 105.4 points a night while attempting 659 three-pointers.
Soares, who made 11-of-15 shots and added four assists and three steals, said Master’s knew what to expect. But that didn’t mean an adjustment period wasn’t necessary.
After 11 days without a game, the Mustangs trailed 23-22 after the first quarter and turned the ball over 16 times in the first half.
“We just had to be ready, especially mentally, that they would always bring that pressure,” Soares said. “We just had to be able to stay in our offense, move the ball around and run our sets.”
Soares scored seven points each in the second and third quarters as Master’s took the lead for good and built a considerable cushion.
Neuman’s 19 points were a season-high for the Mustangs, who led by 10 at half and by as many as 26 after intermission.
“It was really exciting to see (Anika) play a phenomenal game today,” Thompson said.
The Olivet Nazarene Tigers, who averaged 15 made threes before Saturday, connected on only 11-of-33 from beyond the arc. They shot just 16 percent from distance in the third quarter, and they also struggled to match TMU’s production in the paint. The Mustangs outscored their visitors 52-26 in that category.
“This sounds funny because they scored 77 points,” said Master’s head coach Dan Waldeck, “but we made it tough on them scoring because really in those middle two quarters they really didn’t score like they normally do.”
Zanna Myers led the Tigers with 15 points off the bench. She was part of a revolving cycle of five players in, five players out every few minutes. Thirteen Tigers played at least 10 minutes.
The strategy fueled an inspired defensive effort, one Master’s handled at a reasonable level.
Waldeck said the goal was to turn the ball over 25 times or fewer. He was OK with 28 considering the circumstances, and he credited his senior point guard, Thompson, for helping the Mustangs slow the game down.
“The key was just to be who we are and force them to adjust to our game,” said Thompson. “With so many possessions in the game, we needed to be able to move on quickly from mistakes and play the next play.”
Hannah Ostrom added eight points for Master’s, and Madi Hull chipped in seven off the bench.
Here’s the box score.
— Game Recap by Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director; top photo by Jason Velarde.