Finding the right combination

Women’s hoops opens up with a win and a loss at Tip-Off Classic

Junior+Bree+Meier+looks+to+Sophomore+center+Erin+O%E2%80%99Toole+as+she+posts+up+in+the+paint+against+UW-Superior+Saturday+night+in+Zorn+Arena.

Photo by Kendall Ruchti

Junior Bree Meier looks to Sophomore center Erin O’Toole as she posts up in the paint against UW-Superior Saturday night in Zorn Arena.

Coming into the 2015-16 season, women’s basketball head coach Tonja Englund stressed the importance of 6-foot-4 sophomore transfer Erin O’Toole, and her strength in the post.

However, over the weekend at the UW-Eau Claire Tip-Off Classic in Zorn Arena, the Blugolds showed they have more than just a strength down low.

They showed they have depth.

Senior forward Madison Johnson was plugged into the center position Friday night in place of the injured O’Toole and scored a game high 27 points en route to a 83-77 overtime victory over College of St. Scholastica (Minn.).

Around Johnson was a starting lineup made up of four guards including senior Teenie Lichtfuss, juniors Bree Meier and Arien Becker and sophomore Jenni LaCroix that she said created a ton of space for her to work with.

Freshman Maddie Dunathan came off of the bench for Eau Claire and made an immediate impact Englund said, in what she calls the “quick lineup.”.

Midway through the third quarter, the two point guards Dunathan and LaCroix pressured the Saints’ ball handlers at mid-court and two straight possessions came away with steals that led to fast-break layups, which gave the Blugolds a 42-40 lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game.

“There was a stretch there where we could really get out there and run,” Englund said. “Because Erin O’Toole was hurt tonight we went with our four guard strategy, a little bit quicker, obviously we love our bigs but we just want to be really versatile this year.”

Despite trailing for most of the first half, the Blugolds were able to grab the lead and hold on to it in the third quarter, until a late run by the Saints tied the game up at the end of regulation.

Despite losing a late 10-point fourth-quarter lead, Johnson had the Saints number in the overtime period as she would score the first seven points to give the Blugolds their first win of the season.

“The nice thing about Madison Johnson is she’s so versatile,” Englund said. “I thought that was great down the stretch for her to show her competitiveness. She demanded the ball.”

To go along with Johnson’s 27, Lichtfuss chipped in 16 points, while LaCroix had 15 of her own and freshman Dunathan had nine as the Blugolds shot 49.2 percent from the floor.

After missing the first game of two in the Tip-Off Classic due to injury, Blugold sophomore center O’Toole returned to action against UW-Superior Saturday night and drew a lot of attention.

Double teams and triple teams were called on to stop O’Toole whenever she received the ball in the paint. Despite the pressure, O’Toole continued to stay strong as she finished with a team high 15 points and seven rebounds in the 61-58 loss to the Yellowjackets.

The Blugolds came out early looking to establish themselves down low, starting both Johnson and O’Toole alongside LaCroix, Lichtfuss and Becker.

However, despite a back and forth low scoring battle for the first two quarters, Eau Claire surged ahead in the third quarter behind a scoring run started by a Teenie Lichtfuss three-pointer, and would take a 50-44 lead into the fourth quarter.

“I really like the group that got the lead for us,” Englund said. “They played the game plan, they went inside and played inside out, that’s our game, and then suddenly we decided we weren’t going to do that anymore. That was when the game changed.”

As Johnson and O’Toole continued to rotate in and out due to foul trouble, the Blugolds began to struggle offensively, as they were only able to put up eight points in the fourth quarter. The Yellowjackets took the game over offensively, going on a 7-0 run midway through the quarter on the way to their third win.

O’Toole led the way with her 15 points, followed by Lichtfuss’ 13 and Johnson’s eight as Eau Claire shot only 39.3 percent from the field. The Blugolds once again struggled from the free throw line shooting a combined 53.8 percent.

O’Toole said the Blugolds simply weren’t able to execute enough down the stretch offensively to get the win.

“We played hard and I feel like we always play hard, I just feel like our execution wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” O’Toole said. “We didn’t do some key things that we needed to do and because of that we weren’t able to get the results that we wanted.”

Englund said despite the Blugolds not being to close out Saturday’s game, a positive for her is what the future of the combination of O’Toole and Johnson in the post holds.

“Erin is only a sophomore which is really exciting, and I think that the Madison and Erin combination is a great one,” she said. “But I don’t think that is our problem, our issue right now is when we get a lead we need to keep going to what got us that lead and not go away from it.”

At 7 p.m. Tuesday the Blugolds will continue their opening stretch of games as they face St. Norbert College in Zorn Arena.