Women’s basketball 6-3 after road trip

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Posted Monday, December 12, 2016 - 5:40pm

Over the holiday break, the Lady Eagles played in the SLCC Thanksgiving Tournament in Taylorsville. The team returned to Utah after having spent time in Phoenix, the week prior.

The women’s squad left the “Valley of the Sun” with two wins out of the three games. In both victories, the team handily disposed of their opponents, winning by a margin of 20 or more points each game. With those two wins, the Eagles improved their record to an impressive 5-2 start to the season . Those five victories are only four shy of the total nine that the Eagles accumulated all of last season.

However disappointing last season may have been, this year’s squad seems poised to make it a distant memory and become a force to reckon with.

The Eagles’ early success is due, in part, to the team’s commitment to playing as a team and distributing the offense evenly. Before their game on Nov. 25, Head Coach Chelsey Warburton elaborated on the level of play that led the team to so many victories. “We’re just not counting on one or two people. We have six to eight [players] contributing, whether it’s double digits or just single digits. Everybody’s seeming to score.”

Up to this point, the Eagles lived up to their coach’s assertions, having performed at a balanced level of scoring across the board. Five of their top point-producers average 5.5 to 12 points per game.

This level of scoring and dedicated team play was going to be crucial in their performance against their first opponent in Taylorsville: the Casper College Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds won their first meeting with USU Eastern in early November. Casper beat the Lady Eagles handily, 70-51.

In the first half of their rematch against Casper College, the Lady Eagles had a hard time containing the Thunderbirds defensively and struggled against them in the paint. When the Thunderbirds did get in the paint, they gobbled up nearly every rebound, while getting a good amount of second-chance points as a result.

Other aspects of the Eagles’ game that created offense for the opponent were turnovers and untimely fouls. The Eagles committed 23 fouls and 15 turnovers. Despite these mistakes, USU Eastern managed to keep the game close. At the end of the half, the Eagles led 34-33 and seemed determined to turn things around the last two periods of the game.

The third period didn’t go as well for the Eagles and the team combined for eight points over the 10-minute time-frame. Missed shots and more turnovers carried over from the first half and continued to plague the team. The silver lining to all of this was that USU Eastern improved in the defensive rebound department.

Once the game went into the final period, the squad used their rebound control to start putting points up on the board. The Eagles ultimately lost the game 72-56, but walked away with a lot of teachable moments and positive sides to their game that would help the team move forward.

Three of the team’s standout players were Madison Loftus, Bryndie Ballam and Kaitlin Toluono. Loftus was one of the Eagles in the game for a good chunk of the first half. Her 18 points led the team, and her three-point shooting showcased when she scored two consecutive threes to close the gap between the Eagles and the Thunderbirds.

As for Ballam, her ball handling and playmaking abilities created countless scoring opportunities. In addition to her eight points, two assists and two steals, she jumpstarted the team going down the other end of the court.

Finally, Toulono was a defensive mainstay, who recorded three rebounds and managed to impose her will down low by the basket.

Refreshingly, all three players maintained a positive attitude in spite of the defeat. Ballam said, “Down at the end, play tougher D, don’t get down on ourselves.” Toluono added that the team needed to “eliminate the mental lapses that we had” and Loftus gave insight into what the team will build on stating, “We are working on building on working on our plays more … we ran our plays really well.”

Overall the teammates seemed to be aware of the importance of staying focused on the game plan, while at the same time staying loose and not taking the game too seriously.

This mentality proved to pay dividends quickly for the Lady Eagles as they demolished their next opponent: the Williston State Tetons.

Just as was the case in the game against the Thunderbirds, the first half of the game was close and highly contested. Both teams were hitting shots and played sound defense. The Eagles’ defense was especially stifling as the team did an outstanding job of keeping the Tetons on the outside zone and were dominant in the rebound department.

USU Eastern pulled down 35 of their 46 rebounds in the defensive zone and forced the Tetons to take a lot more shots from the three-point line. Williston State shot poorly from behind the arc, going 6-24 throughout the entire game.

At the half, the score was close at 36-31, with the Tetons trailing USU Eastern by five.

Then things got ugly for Williston State as the Eagles completely shut them down to open the third period. It wasn’t until six minutes into the period before the Tetons scored their first basket. In that same timespan, the Eagles piled on 12 points to take a commanding 48-33 lead.

The Tetons were outscored by a 3-1 ratio, with the team only mustering six points to USU Eastern’s 18. The Eagles never looked back after that and walloped Williston College 76-49. The win was proof that when the Lady Eagles play as a team, good things happen.

Free throws especially played a role in the game, as their 22 points from the line made up for nearly the entire margin of victory.

One of the more successful free-throw shooters, Ballam, said, “Our coaches definitely stress free throws, because free throws are part of the reason teams win and lose game.” This certainly has applied to this squad, a 68.5 percent free-throw shooting percentage is good enough to rank 32nd out of 185 teams in the NJCAA.

The Eagles’ next home game is Dec. 9, followed by another on the 16th, both of which are in the BDAC.

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