JOLIET – This season already has been successful for the University of St. Francis women’s basketball team.
The Saints’ recent play has helped raise expectations, and if they continue to play they way they have been, this could be a really special season for coach Steve Brooks and his team.
The Saints, who are ranked 13th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics poll, improved to 7-0 in January and 17-5 overall after leaning on a solid defensive effort in the second half and a well-balanced offensive attack to capture a 71-48 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference win over Trinity International University on Wednesday at the Pat Sullivan Center.
With the win, St. Francis (17-5, 12-1 CCAC) maintained a one-game lead in first place in the CCAC ahead of Cardinal Stritch. The two front-runners meet next Wednesday in Milwaukee.
USF’s last five victories during its current win streak have been by an average of 21.4 points. But Brooks was more focused about how well his team played defensively after settling for a 40-30 halftime advantage. The Saints limited the Trojans (7-14, 2-11) to just four points in the third quarter and only 18 points in the second half.
“Ideally what we’d really like to be is a defensive-minded program,” Brooks said. “For us down the road, if we have a chance to be competitive on the national scene, if we can be that team that’s hard to play against defensively, that’s going to be really important. I was frustrated since we let them stand and shoot. But I thought we did a much better job in the second half and definitely in that third quarter we shut them down.
“It helped tonight that Kaitlin (Aylward) touched it, she had three people guarding her. But she made plays that made other people around her that much better, and it’s fun to watch when we play like that. The thing that’s most encouraging now is that I think they’re playing together. They understand for us to do something special, they have to do it together.”
And there also was the balanced offense. While TIU put its defensive focus on Kaitlin Aylward, who was named as both the NAIA D-II and CCAC Player of the Week last week, she was limited to nine points, but added eight rebounds and five assists to become one of six Saints to score eight or more points.
Leading the Saints was Jordan Pyle, who had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Nichole Davidson added 11 points and Leah Sims had 10 points and five assists. Other USF scoring leaders were Madi Canady, who had nine points, and Andriana Acosta, who added eight points.
“In the last couple of games, we’ve really come together as a team, and that’s what has gotten us bigger wins,” Pyle said. “We’ve all gotten so much closer, and coach Brooks is doing a really good job. Defense is a really big part of our game, since when we play really good defense as a team, it drives our offensive play. I think a good quality that we have developed is our communication on the court, which has helped our defense and offense.”
USF opened the second half with a 10-0 run and outscored the Trojans 21-4 in the third quarter to take a 61-34 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I wouldn’t have gotten the honors if it wasn’t for my teammates,” Aylward said. “This was definitely a team win tonight and everybody contributed, and it didn’t matter who scored, rebounded or had assists, everybody did their part tonight. Defense is a huge key for us, so after halftime we wanted to make sure that they didn’t get past 50 points. These wins are definitely helping us to gain confidence, and we know what we can do in the future.”