By Bill Scott, Saint Francis (Ind.) Sports Information Director
MARION, Ind. -- No doubt about it. Top-ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.) is No. 1 in the Crossroads League and will remain No. 1 in NAIA Division II after posting a convincing 73-57 win at fourth-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University in the NAIA Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Cougars tracked down their 24 consecutive win without a loss this season extending the USF record to start the season as well as the record for consecutive wins.
USF led 31-23 at halftime and outscored the NAIA's No. 1 defensive team 42-34 in the final 20 minutes to improve to 12-0 in Crossroads League action. The Lady Cougars hold a three-game lead over IWU with six games to play.
The second time through the CL schedule is like a having to 'prove it' in a game of horse, so after getting their first unanimous selection to No. 1 on Tuesday, the game on Saturday at fourth-ranked IWU was a 'prove it' game.
"We knew they would be coming after us since we beat them in the first game," Jenelle Wilson said. "Sky (Shurn) was hitting from everywhere, especially in the first half. I thought Brooke (Ridley) was great on defense with so many blocked shots and Jessica (Harrison) came off the bench and played strong when Kalah (Baer) got in foul trouble."
USF Senior Skylarr Shurn scored 18 points in the first half and finished with 28 leading all scorers. Sophomore Brooke Ridley added 11 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, and she posted six blocked shots. Senior Jenelle Wilson added 10 points and senior Jessica Harrison came off the bench to score 10 for the Lady Cougars, who won their 50th game as the No. 1-ranked team in 56 chances.
Wilson said rebounding was a point of emphasis in practice and before the game, so when she heard USF controlled a 43-33 advantage, she was pleased.
"We're not that much of rebounding team, so those figures indicate we worked hard and it paid off," Wilson said. "Jessica had a really good game and even if she doesn't score much, she does so many other things, and she's a good teammate."
USF got a combined 19 points from starting center Kalah Baer and Harrison along with 12 rebounds.
IWU (19-5, 9-3 CL) only led once, 10-8 after a Val Sohasky score with 14:02 to play in the first half. Harrison banked in a short jumper from the paint with 11:58 to play for an 11-10 USF lead. Katrina Blackmon hit one of two free throws at 11:40 to tie the game at 11, but USF got two free throws by Shurn and another Harrison bucket for a 15-11 lead with 10:33 to play.
IWU charged back to tie the game at 15, Carlee Cottrell with the bucket with 8:51 to play. It was the fourth and final tie of the game. Wilson broke the tie with a short jumper in the lane for a 17-15 lead with 8:31 to play. USF closed out the half outscoring the Wildcats 16-8 from that tie at 15.
"I thought that the way we closed the first half, then started the second half was crucial to the final outcome," USF Head Coach Gary Andrews observed. "Our defense was definitely good and we pretty much shut them down. Jenelle played great defense on (Taylor) Goshert and Brooke had a great game, a double-double and six blocks.
"It was just an overall great team effort with great defense and hitting free throws," Andrews added. "They didn't really get hot until maybe the last five or six minutes."
USF expanded its advantage to as many as 18 points with 11:18 to play in the game after Shurn hit two free throws for a 47-29 lead. The Wildcats, who lost for the first time in 11 games at Luckey Arena this season, got no close than 11 points on three different occasions in the final 2:39 of the game.
USF connected on 31 of 35 free throws for the game, 25 of 28 in the second half. IWU connected on 9 of 17 free throws for the game. USF only shot .364 in the final 20 minutes (8 for 22), but the Lady Cougars showed they can 'D' up and limited IWU to .297 shooting in the second half (11 for 37) and .200 from 3-point range (4 for 20). IWU was 0-for-5 shooting from 3-point range in the first half and finished shooting .160 (4 for 25). IWU shot .338 for the game on 22-for-65 shooting.
Game notes: USF's rematch with Bethel College has been moved to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, because of the weather predicted for Tues., Feb. 4 . . . it will be part of a women-men doubleheader with the Pilots with the men's game starting at 7 p.m. . . . USF is 50-6 as #1 team...USF has won 12 consecutive games as #1...Shurn scored 18 pts in the first half...USF has won 17 of last 18 road/neutral court games, 31-4 over last 2 seasons combined...Ridley recorded her 6th double-double this season, the 9th for her career...USF is 56-4 over last 2 seasons combined....8th consecutive double figure scoring game for Shurn, who is averaging 22.9 ppg over last 8 games...Shurn has 6 20+ pts games in her last 8... USF sweeps regular season series, the 1st USF reg-season sweep since 2010-11 against IWU...1st USF bk-to-bk road wins at IWU since 2000-01 and 2001-02 . . . USF has won three consecutive games in its series against IWU and 4 of the last 5 meetings.