Fresh off a Chicagoland Tournament loss to Olivet Nazarene, the Cougars were hoping to overcome game- one jitters to advance to a game on Friday. No. 1 Saint Xavier (Illi.) (29-3) did just that, in a dominating 86-58 performance against No. 8 seed Tennessee Wesleyan (17-9). Sophomore Kara Krolicki led the Cougars with 29 points on 12 of 22 shooting.
Krolicki used an arsenal of moves to to burn the Bulldogs on defensive end.
“Krolicki has a reputation of being a three-point shooter, but she can hurt you in so many ways,” Saint Xavier Head Coach Bob Hallberg said. “A lot of female basketball players don’t have three components to their game. Three [point shot], to the hoop or mid-range. She has all three of those in her bag of tricks.”
It was a back and forth affair early, as each team traded quick buckets. Sophomore Kara Krolicki, who leads the Cougars with 20 points per game, got three quick points to give the Cougars a one-point lead. Later in the quarter Jara Gasper, who led all scorers with 12 first half for the Bulldogs, knocked down to a reverse layup that put Tennessee Wesleyan up three.
Saint Xavier’s Sami Pawlak, who had eight first half points on four of five shootings, knocked down shots on back-to-back possessions to put the Cougars up one. Krolicki knocked down a floater and a corner three to put the Cougars up three with 1:19 left in the quarter. Saint Xavier led 19-15 after the first quarter.
The Cougars’ defense reeked havoc early in the second quarter, causing three quick Tennessee Wesleyan turnovers. Junior Sidney Prasse knocked down an early shot and senior Caitlin McMahon snagged a rebound and finished a layup to extend the Saint Xavier lead to 10 with just over six minutes remaining.
Mikayla Leyden, who finished with 19 points, converted an and-one opportunity to put the Cougars up 12 halfway through the quarter. Gasper got a bucket to go to cut the lead to eight, but Leyden added two more late baskets to extend the Saint Xavier halftime lead to 13.
Leyden and Krolicki exploded offensively in the second half, going for 12 and 14 points respectively. This offensive burst put the Panthers in the driver’s seat and they never looked back. Krolicki nailed two straight three-pointers, before making back-to-back floaters to put the Cougars up 16.
Leyden made a transition layup, before finishing an acrobatic layup in traffic to put the lead at 20. Brittany Collins, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds of her own, scored on back to back plays, before Leyden nabbed a steal and finished the basket to put the Panthers up 14 heading into the fourth quarter.
The offensive output from Leyden and Krolicki came as no surprise to Head Coach Bob Hallberg.
“They’ve been the mainstay of the team all year long,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have two real good guards that can hurt you in a variety of ways.”
The fourth quarter was much of the same for Saint Xavier. Krolicki and Gasper traded baskets, before both teams traded free throws. Krolicki and Gasper once again traded baskets late, but by then, the game was out of reach for Tennessee Wesleyan.
Tennessee Wesleyan Head Coach Jeff Rice credited Saint Xavier in the win, but felt his team simply did not play well.
“That was probably the worst game of 2016,” Rice said. “We didn’t get a ton of shots, we put our head down against the zone and we normally shoot it pretty well, but tonight we didn’t.”
With the win, Saint Xavier will move on to face a familiar foe — Goshen College (Ind.) — at 10:15 a.m. on Friday. Saint Xavier previously defeated Goshen 82-69 on Dec. 29.
But for Coach Hallberg, it will be like facing a brand new opponent.
“It’s been so long ago….I had to remember what they looked like when we played them,” Hallberg said. “They’re a good shooting team and we’re going to have to push the ball and get it up tempo.”