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The Lakeland College women's basketball team used a 9-0 spurt in the final three minutes Saturday to post a 57-49 home victory over Concordia University Chicago and remain unbeaten in conference play.
The Muskies (6-2, 4-0 Northern Athletics Conference) let a second-half lead slip away, but flustered the Cougars (3-4, 1-2) into some late turnovers and put the game away in the final 2:43. Lakeland made seven of eight free throws down the stretch, three from sophomore Mary Dennewitz, and two each from senior Kasey Gussert and junior KC Blahnik.
"I think we picked up the defense intensity," said Blahnik, who led Lakeland, with freshman Autumn Gaylor, with 14 points each. "When they fouled us, we hit our free throws which we have to do if we're going to win games like this."
It was a game of runs for both teams. CUC quickly took a 10-2 lead, but Lakeland turned up the defensive pressure and led most of the first half and throughout the second. The Cougars grabbed leads of 47-45 and 49-48 with under five minutes to play before the Muskies sealed the win on the defensive end and the foul line.
"I don't think we ever got into a flow," Blahnik said. "They zoned us in the first, and I think toward the end of the first half we got into the flow of things. Then they came out in man and I think it caught us guard a bit and it took us awhile to get back in the flow of things."
It was final exams week at Lakeland, the school was closed Tuesday for a snow day, and head coach Teri Johnson said the effects of both were evident Saturday.
"We just didn't practice this week the way we usually do," Johnson said. "We were mentally drained all week, but regardless, we're never going to use those as excuses."
Blahnik said, "Coach told us all week that even though we had finals, we still have to come here and play and get the job done."
Johnson said the Cougars threw some zone at Lakeland to get them to shoot from outside, but when the Muskies, who were just 3 of 17 behind the 3-point line in the first half, were patient and got the ball inside, good things happened.
"We fell into their hands a bit," Johnson said. "At halftime we said we have to settle down and get some inside touches and not just rely on the 3-point shot. They want to slow the tempo down, and defensively we forced them to pick it up.
"When we were up on them, intense and pressuring them, that played into our hands. We talked this week about how defensive pressure was going to have to be the staple for this game."
Junior guard Chelsea Coenen was held out Saturday with a minor injury and is expected to play this weekend when the Muskies return to action at North Park University for a two-day tournament.
Blahnik said the team is happy to be sitting 4-0 in NAC play, but they understand there's plenty of room to improve.
"You could see today there were dry spells out there," Blahnik said. "We feel good that we beat two good teams out of the (NAC South) division (CUC and Benedictine). Those are two big games to win because we only see those teams once."