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In-your-face defense was the key to the Lakeland College women's basketball team's big Northern Athletics Conference victory over Benedictine University, 55-42, on Saturday, Jan. 26, at Lakeland.
The Muskies (8-10, 5-6 NAC) picked off 15 steals in the game, which helped force the Eagles into 21 turnovers as a team for the contest.
"We got huge defensive stops when we needed them, and I think we capitalized on a lot of their mistakes," said Lakeland head coach Teri Johnson. "The biggest emphasis in our game plan was to put pressure on their guards and make it tough for them to pass inside. That helped us out tremendously and led to turnovers and opportunities for us to go down and score."
Sophomore guard KC Blahnik was a big part of Lakeland's scoring effort, as she led her team with a career-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds.
"We really wanted to focus on taking care of the ball, hitting our shots and stopping their '3,'" Blahnik said. "We didn't get down. We made some mistakes, but we still stayed up as a team and helped pick each other up. We just kept playing hard, plugging away and doing all the things we needed to do to win."
Johnson also cited her team's ability to take care of the ball and stop Benedictine's 3-point shot as major factors leading to the victory, as the Eagles were a cold 0-16 from long-range.
"They obviously had a height advantage on us with (Tamika) Curtis on the inside, so in order to stop her we had to double down," said Johnson of the Eagles' star center, who still managed 20 points and 18 rebounds. "They have great 3-point shooters on their team, but we were able to do a great job of closing out on them. Hats off to our defensive guard play for being able to get that done. Our guards did a really nice job of taking care of the ball as well. I got after our guards after our loss on Tuesday about taking better care of the ball, and they rose to the occasion. KC Blahnik also had a great game for us and just played out of her mind."
Lakeland trailed for only a short time during the game during the first half, falling behind by a slim margin before Blahnik helped the Muskies regain the lead with a completed 3-point play at the 2:14 mark to make the score 25-24.
Lakeland headed into the locker room with a 27-25 advantage and kept it all through the second half, leading by as many as 11 points. The Muskies' tricky half-court trap and relentless defensive pressure also worked its magic on the Eagles in the second half, holding them to an 18.5 shooting percentage from the floor to drop them to 29.6 percent for the game.
Seniors Peggy Keiper and Brenda Paulson and junior Kasey Gussert also contributed to the Muskies' offensive cause, as each registered eight points in the game. Although Paulson found herself on the bench for most of the first half with two fouls, she still snagged four steals in the game to tie sophomore guard Terra Hiben for steals leader, who also had four. Sophomore guard Megan Chart led the team on the boards with eight, while also adding three assists and five points.
Lakeland will remain at home for another key NAC game on Wednesday, Jan. 30, against Marian College, as the Muskies continue to fight to move up in the conference rankings.
"The game against Marian is big conference game for us next week," Blahnik said. "Hopefully this game today will give us some momentum. We have to take care of our home court."
Game time with Marian is set for 7 p.m. at Lakeland.