Climbing the Ladder

It may have taken over 20 games but The Master’s College women’s basketball team is now playing its best ball of the season.  The most recent evidence came Tuesday evening in Bross Gym when the Mustangs put on their best shooting performance of the year and pulled away from Concordia for an 82-64 triumph.

The victory was the club’s second in a row and gave them their first multi-win streak since late November when they tore off a season-best three straight wins.  More importantly, it kept in motion a climb up the GSAC standings where they are now tied with Concordia for eighth place.  That’s where the Mustangs (11-14 overall, 4-9 GSAC) need to be to earn a conference tournament playoff berth but with the way they’ve been playing recently they won’t settle for that.

It’s been an encouraging sign for Coach Dan Waldeck who, despite enduring a very difficult campaign, said the team has “consistently played hard and kept believing.”

There was proof of that during the opening 20 minutes when the clubs went back and forth in a duel that featured a pair of ties and eight lead changes.  Most of those came in the first eight minutes when the squads jockeyed for position.

The Mustangs scored the first two points of the game on a Zoe Scott layup, led 4-3 on a Lindsey Levanen layup, but didn’t see the right side of the scoreboard again until the 14:07 mark when another Levanen layup gave them an 11-10 lead.

When Millie Rivera drained a three-ball with 11:32 left in the half, the Mustangs went up 16-14 and enjoyed a three-point advantage (18-15) 90 seconds later on a Morgan Schwegler jumper.  But, they couldn’t shake the Eagles who answered back with a 5-2 spurt to tie the game at 20 with 6:45 remaining.

The first signs of separation, though, came on the Mustangs’ next possession when Levanen, who enjoyed a sparkling first half with eight points and seven rebounds, canned a pair of free throws that ignited a 7-0 run for a 27-20 lead with just under five minutes left.  Kimmy Iverson contributed a basket and Millie Rivera buried another trey to cap off the spurt.

Although the Eagles drew to within one point (30-29), the Mustangs kept their poise and the lead, taking a 33-29 edge to the break on Ella Joines’ second three-pointer of the half.

Over the opening 20 minutes, the Mustangs hit at a 46% clip with Levanen leading the way and Lena Rivera close behind with seven points and five rebounds.

Although the Mustangs gave up the first two points of the second period, allowing the Eagles to pull within two, they answered quickly, reeling off nine straight points to take a 42-31 lead.  Fittingly, Levanen triggered the run with a layup while Iverson and Scott rained down consecutive threes to finish it off.

But, the Mustangs weren’t done.  After Concordia sliced the deficit to 46-38, the Mustangs galloped away again.  Again, Levanen was at the forefront of the skein, connecting on a pair of free tosses that started a 13-2 tear, turning the game into a rout at 59-40 with 12 minutes left to play.  During the run, Schwegler, who came up big with nine second-half points, chipped in with four points as did Whitney Best, while Joines completed the decisive burst with a layup.

Shooting a sizzling 63% from the field over the final 20 minutes, the Mustangs didn’t let up one bit, never letting the margin slip below 14 points the rest of the way.  In fact, the advantage hovered around the 20-point plateau until Lena Rivera put them over it (77-56) on a jumper with 3:35 left in the game.

From then on it was just a matter of the final margin of victory with Schwegler providing that with the last four points of the evening.

Pleased with his squad’s season-best 54.5% shooting mark, Waldeck commented that the team’s “offensive adjustments are starting to pay off.”

Displaying that were five double-figure scorers led by Levanen’s 17 points.  For the second straight game, Joines and Schwegler produced off the bench, tallying 11 points apiece.  Lena Rivera, who along with Scott scored 10 points, racked up another double-double after grabbing a game-high tying 11 rebounds.

Following a pair of big home wins, the Mustangs take their quest for a higher playoff berth to Costa Mesa on Saturday evening where they will tangle with 12th-ranked Vanguard.  The Lions, who are tied for second in the GSAC with a 10-3 conference record, beat the Mustangs 62-49 back on January 14.