If Sunday afternoon's Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contest between the Saint Mary's University and Concordia women's basketball teams was a preview of the opening round of the MIAC post-season tournament "” which it very well could be "”Â SMU coach Dan Messmann can hardly wait for Opening Day.
The Cardinals, fueled by a game-high 19 points from Ashley Luehmann (Lewiston, Minn.), erased a one-point halftime deficit and cruised to a 71-58 victory over the Cobbers at the SMU Gym.
With the win, the Cardinals remained in fifth place with a 15-6 record, while Concordia dropped out of a third-place tie with Gustavus into fourth place at 16-6. SMU closes out the regular season at St. Catherine on Wednesday, while Concordia squares off against Augsburg and Gustavus faces Bethel, before ending its season Saturday against Carleton. If all three teams win out, Gustavus will finish third and face sixth-place St. Thomas, while SMU and Concordia would meet again "” this time in Moorhead, Minn. "” on Feb. 23.
"Right now this conference is so balanced, it doesn't matter what seed you are "” anyone can beat anyone," said SMU coach Messmann, noting that SMU lost to St. Benedict on Monday, turned around and beat Gustavus Wednesday, and the Gusties then knocked off the league-leading Blazers on Saturday. "If we can go out and play the way we have the last three games, we have the ability to beat any team we face."
The key, Messmann quickly added, was playing the way they have the last three games.
"The last three games have been among the best we've played all season," said Messmann, whose team scored a season-high 98 points in Saturday's 98-73 rout of Augsburg "” a game in which Jamie Rattunde (Rollingstone, Minn.) netted her 1,000th career point and her second career triple-double. "Everything seems to be coming together at the right time, hopefully that will continue."
Rattunde couldn't equal her 24-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist performance of the day before, but the SMU junior, saddled with three first-half fouls, did managed 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists "” and her first career 3-pointer "”Â vs. the Cobbers. With Rattunde spending long periods of time on the bench, Luehmann picked up the offensive slack, scoring a game-high 19 points. Beth Walch (Altura, Minn.) and Angie Arrington (Spring Grove, Minn.) each chipped in 12 points.
The Cardinals, who trailed by one, 38-37 at the half, erupted for 34 second-half points, while holding Concordia to just seven field goals and 20 points over the final 20 minutes. SMU, which netted a season-high 11 3-point field goals "” including four from Luehmann -Â led by as many as 16 points in the second half in posting their third straight win and moving to 16-8 overall.
"This was a very good week for us," said Messmann after watching his team go 3-1 in its four games in the past week "”Â including 2-1 against the top three teams in the league. "You always want your team to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season, and I think that's exactly what we're doing."