Sam Smith | Staff Writer
Wheaton’s women’s basketball team continued their impressive start to the season by winning two of two at the Beth Baker Classic at Wheaton’s King Arena, marking the second time in as many seasons that the Thunder have come away as the event champions.
The weekend began Friday night with a dominant 95-54 win over the Whittier College Poets. From the opening tip, the Thunder made a point to attack the basket. The effort was spearheaded by freshman point guard Katie McDaniels, scoring in the paint, kicking out to shooters and getting to the free throw line. Wheaton was in the bonus before the 10-minute mark of the first half thanks to their aggressive mindset. Defensively, the Thunder would not let Whittier penetrate and forced them to take jumpshots, and after a couple of early threes, the Poets struggled to convert the rest of the way. Whittier pulled within five with nine minutes left in the first half, but Wheaton’s defense allowed them to begin pulling away, and after a pair of McDaniels’ free throws and a three by freshman Chantal Meacham, Wheaton led by nine.
The Thunder continued getting to the free throw line and scoring in the paint and pushed the lead to 16 at half time. Wheaton’s commitment to scoring in the paint and playing tough perimeter defense was manifested by the halftime shooting percentages, with Wheaton at a 60 percent clip and Whittier shooting just 33 percent from the field. McDaniels led the first half scoring with 14, with eight of them coming from free throws.
Wheaton’s strategy continued in the second half as they pushed the lead to 21 with 17:30 left to play. Whittier began making an effort to keep McDaniels off the score sheet in the second half, so sophomore Hannah Considine took over the scoring slack, finishing with 19 points, 10 of which came in the second half. After Meacham hit her third three with 13:40 remaining, the Thunder led by 30. Whittier began putting on a full court press in the second half and forced some Wheaton turnovers, but the Thunder’s lock down defense kept Whittier from getting points off of them. Even as Wheaton’s starters checked out of the game and younger players saw action, the Thunder did not take the foot off the gas pedal. With just under three minutes left, Wheaton led 90-52, and looked primed to make a run at the century mark, but fell just short of that with a 95-54 final. With that total, Wheaton fell only four points shy of the tournament record for points.
McDaniels and Considine were the leading scorers with 19, and junior Lauren Graham added 13 off the bench. McDaniels also tallied nine rebounds, falling one shy of a double double, and senior Maris Hovee grabbed 10 boards, seven points, four steals and two blocks. Meacham was the leader in assists with six and added nine points on three of four shooting. Overall, the Thunder shot 57.6 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from the free throw line.
“We kept up our intensity the whole game,” Coach Kent Madsen said afterwards. “It didn’t matter if subs were coming in. We kept playing through.”
In the final game of the Beth Baker Classic, Wheaton looked to build on their dominant first game against the Saint Mary’s Belles. But the Belles had other ideas, forcing five turnovers on the Thunder’s first six possessions. Three minutes in, Madsen called timeout and was very vocal in the huddle. The timeout seemed to put a charge into Wheaton, as they began attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. Hovee hit four free throws and McDaniels added three more, and after a Meacham three, the Thunder led 20-18, with 5:55 left in the first half, marking the first time all game they had led. Saint Mary’s retook the lead, but after a nice drive and dish by sophomore Ellie Zeller, Wheaton led once again, a lead they would hold into halftime, despite very sloppy play from both sides. Once again, defense came through, forcing 12 Belle turnovers and limiting their shooting to 39.1 percent, despite only shooting 28.6 percent themselves. Hovee had 11 rebounds in the first half alone and the freshman guards McDaniels and Meacham both led with eight points.
The second half began the way the rest of the game had gone with the Thunder turning over the ball on their first possession and Saint Mary’s answering with a turnover of their own, leading to a Hovee basket. McDaniels hit a three, Zeller knocked down a couple free throws, and Considine added two of her own and just like that, the Thunder pushed their lead from five to 12. The interior defense remained stout as Wheaton seemed to block every shot in sight, finishing with seven as a team. Considine and McDaniels continued attacking the basket and after a slow first half, Meacham hit two straight threes. After sophomore Moriah Reeves converted a three point play, the Thunder led by 14. A couple of more baskets and free throws by McDaniels pushed the lead to 22 with 3:00 to play, and Coach Madsen began incorporating younger players again. The rest of the game flowed smoothly for Wheaton and they won 74-51. Though the Thunder struggled shooting all game, their tough defense made up for their 36.8 percent total by holding Saint Mary’s to only 32.8 percent. They also continued their parade to the foul line, going 19 of 26, including 10 of 15 by McDaniels.
“We did a much better job of playing defense in the second half,” Madsen said. “We’re a young team and this weekend was a great experience for us.”
The freshman McDaniels was once again the star, recording a double double with 26 points and 11 rebounds, along with five assists and three steals. Maris Hovee added eight points and 13 rebounds with two blocks, and Considine had 12 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. For their efforts, McDaniels and Considine were named to the all-tournament team, and McDaniels was later named CCIW player of the week.
“McDaniels’ performance was essential for us,” Madsen said of his young point guard. “We have two point guards with her and Chantal Meacham and they do a great job of running the offense for us.”
After their dominant weekend, the Thunder women went into a battle the following Saturday against third ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater as the No. 24 team in the country. Coming into the contest, the Warhawks had averaged over 90 points per game, but Wheaton’s defense had yet to allow more than 57 points in a game. The Warhawks got out to a fast start, leading by eight with 8:40 left in the first half, but a seven point run by the Thunder trimmed it to one. Sophomore Ellie Zeller capped off an 18 point first half with a three in the last minute to give Wheaton a 31-28 at the half.
Wisconsin-Whitewater took hold of the game in the early second half, going up 45-38 with 14 minutes left, but then a run by Wheaton cut the lead to one. After baskets by Hovee and Reeves gave Wheaton back the lead, and a three by Meacham with three minutes left put them ahead for good. In the closing minute, Wheaton hit six free throws to spur any hope of a Warhawk comeback.
Zeller led all scoring with 22 and Maris Hovee broke the Wheaton record for rebounding by grabbing 22 in the upset win. Meacham added 13 points and three steals and Lauren Graham scored nine points and six rebounds and blocked three shots, including a key block down the stretch that gave Wheaton the lead it would not relinquish. Wheaton outshot Wisconsin-Whitewater 36.4 percent to 31.9 percent and shot 24 free throws as opposed to eight by the Warhawks.
“It was a great team performance,” Madsen said. “I am so proud of our young ladies for how well they defended. We hit some big shots down the stretch, whether it was free throws or other shots. They just kept battling throughout the game.”
The Wheaton women hope to continue their hot start at home against Roosevelt University on Saturday.