by LAUREN LOTT
From The Winonan, WSU’s student newspaper
The Winona State University (WSU) women’s basketball team was unable to come away with a win in its last two regular-season conference games against Concordia, St. Paul, on Friday, and Minnesota State University-Mankato on Saturday.
“It was a challenging weekend to say the least against two good teams that are playing well,” head coach Scott Ballard said.
The loss against Concordia, 80-68, broke Winona State’s five-game home winning streak on Friday night.
The Warriors held their own for most of the game against Concordia, even though they are the top team in the NSIC South. WSU started off strong in the first quarter, gaining up to a seven-point lead, but the Golden Bears had a 10-2 run late in the period to bring them in front 19-18.
The big difference in the game was, in the second quarter, Winona only had three shots fall and scored only 10 points to Concordia’s 26. The Golden Bears shot 11 for 16 to build their 17-point lead going into halftime.
The Warriors continued to fight in the second half as senior Kayla Schaefer hit her first two shots and sophomore Allie Pickrain converted on three straight shot attempts, including two from beyond the arc to cut down the lead to 51-40 with 6:39 left in the third quarter. Concordia then went on a seven-point run to pad their lead back up to 18 points, going into the final quarter with a 20-point lead.
Winona State made one last attempt in the fourth quarter to close the gap, cutting it to a 13-point game with four minutes left, but was unable to contain the Golden Bears’ offense. The 80 points allowed in this contest against Concordia matches a season-high for the Warriors, coming into the game as a strong defensive team, giving up an average of only 60 points per game.
Concordia made it difficult for the Warriors as they set their school record shooting 65.3 percent on the night, with seven different players shooting over 50 percent and five players having double-digit scoring totals. They managed to hold Winona State below their average to 36.7-percent shooting on the night.
“Against Concordia, we lost some of our discipline on defense when they had some players hit some outside shots that usually don’t, and we over reacted and then gave up some driving scores,” Ballard said.
Pickrain recorded her fifth 20-point game of the season in the loss while also shooting four for seven from the three-point range. Sophomore Emily Kieck also assisted on offense shooting 10 points and having three rebounds.
The Warriors tried to make a comeback against Minnesota State University-Mankato on Saturday, but were faced with an aggressive contest that left them falling to the Mavericks 59-49.
Going into the game, the two teams were evenly matched statistically and with their records, but the Mavericks held Winona State to a low scoring percentage below 40 percent for the second straight contest and forced 17 turnovers, matching the season high for the Warriors.
Winona State did well in the first half, keeping up with the Mavericks and going into halftime down only 31-30. Kieck was hot on offense scoring six of the final eight points of the opening half.
The Warriors had a similar issue as Friday night, pacing their opponent for three quarters, but having one rough quarter proving to be the difference in the contest.
“Unfortunately, we had one bad quarter in each game that was the difference in each game,” Ballard said.
The third quarter was when the Warriors went cold, shooting only 2-11 from the field. Mankato seized this opportunity, adding to their lead going into the fourth 44-36.
WSU did not go quietly in the final quarter, opening up the frame with an eight-point run to tie the Mavericks 44-all. Threes by sophomore Julia Silloway and Schaefer and a jump shot by Pickrain tied up the game.
The Warriors kept the game close until the final four minutes, as the offense went cold again and were held without a field goal for the remainder of the contest.
“The Mankato game was ugly because of how rough and physical it was, which turned into an advantage for them and their style of play,” Ballard said. “We have to get tougher in games like that mentally and physically to give ourselves a better chance of competing.”
Pickrain had a solid game, coming away with 19 points in the loss, while senior Rachel Novotny had a team-best nine rebounds.
“This past weekend shows how important it was for us to lock up a home playoff game last weekend when we won at Southwest Minnesota State,” Ballard said.
These two losses end the regular season for Winona State at a record of 14-12 (12-10 NSIC) and puts them in fourth place in the NSIC South heading into the playoffs.
“We are excited about earning a home playoff game for the first time in three years and look forward to playing in front of our home fans for high stakes,” Ballard said. “I enjoy this time of the year and am confident that we will play with a sense of urgency and compete well.”
The Warriors will look to shake off these losses as they head into playoff action at home on Wednesday, February 27, at 6 p.m. against Minot State.