Sam Smith | Staff Writer
The Wheaton women are on a hot streak. After losing to George Fox University on Nov. 16, the Thunder have won six consecutive games, the two most recent wins coming against the University of Chicago on Dec. 4 and Roosevelt University on Dec. 7.
The Thunder went into their Wednesday evening matchup against the University of Chicago Maroons, ranked 19th in the nation by D3-Hoops. Wheaton was forced to play its second straight game without starting forward and second leading scorer sophomore Hannah Considine, but Wheaton’s other forwards were able to pick up the scoring slack.
In what turned out to be a very physical game, Wheaton was able to get out to an early lead, but Chicago fought back to tie the game at 14. Two and a half minutes later, Wheaton had built a 12-point lead thanks to a 12-0 run, spearheaded by the driving of freshman point guard Katie McDaniels. McDaniels led all scorers in the game with 26. The Maroons countered with a 6-0 run of their own, and the back-and-forth would continue for the rest of the game. Chicago put on a zone press in the first half that led to several Thunder turnovers, and trailed by only six at the half, but after the break, the Maroons switched to a half court man defense, allowing the Thunder to score more easily in the paint.
Despite the Thunder’s second-half improvements on offense, Chicago’s leading scorers Julie Maguira and Maggie Ely caught fire in the second half, allowing the Maroons to keep the game close. They cut the lead down to two with 3:22 left, and later down to three with under a minute left, but the Thunder hit their free throws down the stretch, and won 79-72.
Offensively, the Thunder had a solid shooting effort, going 43.1 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the line, including 10 for 11 by McDaniels. Sophomores Moriah Reeves and Ellie Zeller added 10 points apiece and junior Lauren Graham scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds. But the star of the game was senior Maris Hovee: Coming off a record-setting performance where she grabbed 22 rebounds against UW-Whitewater, Hovee tied the old record by grabbing 20 in this game, while also adding 11 points and blocking seven shots. Chicago lacked the size to contend with Hovee and she controlled the glass on both ends of the floor from the opening whistle.
The Saturday game against the Roosevelt Lakers saw the Thunder once again without Hannah Considine, but scoring was hardly at a premium for Wheaton. The game was mostly a back-and-forth affair with both sides scoring in bunches and going on long runs. Roosevelt spent most of their time playing five perimeter players and going five corners, forcing Hovee and the other Wheaton bigs to defend on the perimeter. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they were ice cold on outside jumpers in the first half. It did, however, force Hovee into foul trouble, as she had three fouls before halftime and picked up a quick fourth in the second, forcing her to sit out for much of the second half. Ellie Zeller also spent much of the game in foul trouble.
As a result, Coach Kent Madsen was forced to play a lot of small ball to counter the five-wing lineup of the Lakers, and the Thunder delivered for him. After going in to the half down by one, Wheaton scored the first seven points of the second half. After a couple of Laker baskets, the Thunder went on another run, this one nine straight points. Trailing by 11, the Lakers came storming back, scoring 11 straight points to tie the game at 50. After a pair of buckets by McDaniels, a layup and a three by senior Maria Panaggio and a circus shot by Lauren Graham, Wheaton had pushed its lead to seven with ten minutes left. Roosevelt got the lead down to three with 4:36 to play, but the remainder of the game, the Thunder dominated. They closed out Roosevelt 91-79.
Once again, McDaniels was the leading scorer, dropping 28 points on 58.8 percent shooting, including a perfect eight of eight from the free throw line while playing all 40 minutes. Ellie Zeller added 18 on seven of eight shooting; Hovee scored 13 and grabbed 13 rebounds despite foul trouble. Panaggio played her best game of the year, scoring 12 points on five for eight shooting including a pair of threes, and played stellar defense, recording two huge blocks on Roosevelt’s leading scorer, Casey Davis. Though Davis dropped 20 points, Wheaton held her to six for 14 from the field. As a team, Wheaton shot 52.2 percent from the field and an astounding 19 for 20 from the free throw line. It was the free throw shooting that put away Roosevelt down the stretch and gave Wheaton the double digit win.
With the two wins, Wheaton will likely move up in the national rankings. They will look to extend their six-game win streak Saturday the 14th as they travel to Dubuque, Iowa, to take on Clarke College, their first road game in almost a month.