SMU women earn trip to MIAC title game with come-from-behind victory

Coming into the game, the focus was on the third and fourth-leading scorers in the MIAC, Saint Mary’s’ Brandi Blattner and Gustavus Adolophus’ Mikayla Miller, but they were each held in check and others had to step up to ignite offense.

And that’s exactly what happened for the Saint Mary’s women’s basketball team, which book-ended difficult second and third quarters with stronger performances in the first and fourth for a come-from-behind, 78-70 victory to snap Gustavus’ six-game winning streak and advance to the MIAC Tournament championship game at Saint Mary’s Gym on Thursday.

Briget Pethke knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to help SMU (21-5, 15-4) jump out to a 13-2 lead early, but the Gusties fought back to make it 26-15 after one quarter of play.

Gustavus (20-7, 14-5) intensified its defense which resulted in a slugging performance from the Saint Mary’s offense which managed just one field goal in the second. Justine Lee connected on a short jumper to tie it at 29-29 with 3:30 left in the half, then Lindsey Johnson scored off of a Blattner turnover to give the Gusties a 31-29 lead with 2:40 to go before the break. Pethke nailed a pair of free throws to knot it up at 31-31, then hit Bridgette Audette in the lane which turned into two more free throws with 2.2 seconds on the clock to give SMU a 33-31 lead at the half.

The Gusties opened the third with a 14-4 run to take a 45-38 lead, but another two free throws followed by a Haley Trom lay-up tied it at 45-45. Johnson hit a lay-up with under a minute to go and after an SMU shot clock violation, Johnson drilled a jumper from the free throw line to give Gustavus a 49-45 lead heading into the final period.

Micaela Meredith nailed a 3-pointer to start the fourth to pull Saint Mary’s to within one, 49-48. A Pethke steal pushed the ball ahead to Meredith but Hannah Howard came from behind for a block to deny the Cardinals the lead. It was short-lived, however, as a Pethke 3-pointer put SMU up by two, 51-49. It was back and forth until Audette hit a turnaround jumper to make it 55-53 with seven minutes remaining.

Pethke drained a triple, found Schaefer for a backdoor lay-up and when Meredith hit another 3-ball with five minutes to go, the Saint Mary’s had built a 63-56 lead and never looked back.

Gustavus got a trio of triples with under a minute to go, but could draw no closer than six points.

Pethke led the Cardinals with 21 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists. In fact, Pethke broke SMU’s single-season record for helpers, passing Michele Gensler’s mark of 151 from the 1990-91 season.

Meredith finished with 20 points, while Audette had 17 and eight rebounds. Blattner pitched in nine points and nine boards.

Miranda Rice led the Gusties with 21 points and nine rebounds, Johnson had 18 points and Miller dished out a game-high nine assists despite scoring just seven.

Saint Mary’s will travel to No. 8 St. Thomas for the MIAC Tournament championship on Saturday at 3 p.m.. The Cardinals lost their previous two match-ups with the Tommies this season. It will be the second MIAC title game between the two schools in the last three years.

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