Gene's Blog: Parade of No. 1 teams tests W. Hoops
November 26, 2012
Kellie Ring (12) had a career-high eight steals to help the Toms stun No. 1-ranked Stevens Point. (Greg Smith file photo)
It’s rare for a college team to get the chance to play a nationally No. 1-ranked team. It’s more difficult to come away with a victory.
St. Thomas women’s basketball just completed what’s believed to be an unprecedented five-game run dating back to last March with four games against current or soon-to-be No. 1s.
Coach Ruth Sinn’s Tommies went 2-2 against that elite competition, capped by Sunday’s 73-70 home-court upset of UW-Stevens Point.
In the 2012 Final Four last March, the Tommies lost to eventual national champion Illinois Wesleyan in the semifinals and beat reigning No. 1 Amherst the next day in the third-place game.
St. Thomas opened this season on Nov. 16 with a 78-72 loss to Calvin (Mich.), a team it beat in overtime last March in the NCAA playoff quarterfinals.
Calvin was the team that eliminated UW-Stevens Point last March in the NCAA playoffs.
Stevens Point turned around on Nov. 17 and beat Calvin 84-63, which propelled the Pointers into the No. 1 slot in last week’s WBCA Coaches’ poll.
Recent Stevens Point teams have been a thorn in the Tommies’ side. Playing in the debut basketball game in the new Schoenecker Arena in November 2011, the Pointers spoiled the UST party with a 72-67 win. They made it two in a row last November in Stevens Point as St. Thomas lost its season opener 70-53. UST then reeled off 30 consecutive wins en route to the third-place national finish.
On Sunday, St. Thomas’ 15-game home court win streak was in jeopardy. The Tommies took the floor without their two best players -- junior Maggie Weiers, an All-America caliber center, who will miss the season with a foot injury, and injured junior All-America forward Taylor Young. Seven sophomores, many with limited varsity experience, were part of UST’s 10-player rotation.
St. Thomas hung with the sharpshooting Pointers and trailed just 33-30 at halftime. A 13-3 Stevens Point run pushed the deficit to 46-33. Instead of panic, Sinn’s team went to work. Seven different players scored during a 20-2 run that put UST ahead 53-48.
The Tommies kept making plays until the end. Sophomore Jenna Dockter had the breakout game of her career, with 15 of her career-best 19 points in the second half, including 11 points in the final 6:57.
An honorable-mention all-stater at Eastview High, Dockter was sidelined by injury much of her freshman season. She scored only 23 points in 13 varsity games after joining the team last January. On Sunday, she converted a three-point play with 1:08 left that kept UST ahead 68-64, and the Toms hung on for a 73-70 victory.
“The most positive thing was this was a total team effort,” Sinn said. “We had a lot of players step up and grow up today. They were ready.”
St. Thomas forced 22 turnovers and had a 27-17 edge in points off turnovers. Senior guard Kellie Ring had a career-best eight steals, and she also contributed 16 points and four assists. Sophomore center Anna Smith added 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Sophomore Alyssa Favilla, who played in only four games last season, got her first start. Junior Annessa Hicks and fellow sophs Laura Margarit, Hannah Hughes, Carley Emery and Elaine Warner each played about a dozen minutes and made solid contributions.
The Toms now have five MIAC games in a 14-day stretch starting Wednesday against Macalester. St. Thomas went 24-0 against conference opponents last winter.
Sinn said it’s crucial that the Tommies bring the same energy and focus against all teams, whether unranked or unbeaten.
“Now we have to take that same intensity and energy we’ve had the last three games and transfer that into our conference games,” Sinn said. “With five games coming up in a short time, we have to be consistent. That’s what we did so well last season.”
Young should rejoin the mix this week for the Tommies, giving Sinn one senior, three juniors and seven sophomores in her top 11 rotation.
Sunday marked the third time in nine days that a St. Thomas team played a No. 1 or No. 2-ranked team. Tommie volleyball upset Calvin in the NCAA championship match on Nov. 17, and St. Thomas men’s hockey lost 3-2 on Nov. 23 at No. 2-ranked Norwich.
Six months ago, Tommie baseball went 1-1 against No. 1-ranked Marietta (Ohio) at the May College World Series.
Click here to see NCAA.com story on Sunday’s Tommie victory: