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MILWAUKEE, WIS. - The Lakeland College women's basketball team moved on to the Northern Athletics Conference Championships Friday night with a 58-47 victory at Wisconsin Lutheran.
Leah Eisner (Stevens Point) had another solid game for the Muskies, scoring a game-high 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, her third straight game in double digits.
"Coach worked with us this week to stop their interior game," Eisner said. "She also emphasized working hard to square up when she shoot. I've gotten a lot more comfortable with playing inside and finding other players when I'm pressured instead of forcing shots that aren't there.
The Muskies jumped out to a 9-2 lead behind a 3-pointer from Mary Dennewitz (Chicago, Ill.) and three consecutive field goals by KC Blahnik (Gladstone, Mich.) in a 47 second span. They were held to four points, all on free throws, over the next seven and a half minutes until Eisner completed a layup with 9:31 remaining in the first half to give Lakeland a 15-14 lead. They held the advantage throughout the rest of the half and took a 29-23 lead into the break.
"It's always a goal for us to force a certain amount of turnovers, but it was an issue for us as well in the first half," Lakeland head coach Teri Johnson said. "We went into halftime and made a point of fixing that, and turned it over just three times in the second half."
Boosted by an increased interior presence in the second half, Wisconsin Lutheran used a 13-4 offensive rebounding advantage as they gradually cut into the Lakeland lead before a Brittany Bahr 3-pointer put the Warriors ahead 36-35 with 11:40 left in the game. Blahnik answered with a jumper to take a one point lead. After falling behind once more, Eisner scored inside the paint with 6:52 remaining as Lakeland converted the final lead change of the night. Holding onto a four point lead, they combined to hit 7-of-8 free throw attempts in the final moments to lock down the win.
"We did a great job of setting the tempo after halftime," Johnson said. "Erika Laete started to head up on the inside for Wisconsin Lutheran and we stressed to our post players the need to lock her down on defense and deny her the ball."
Blahnik backed up Eisner's effort with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Dennewitz joined them in double figures with 11 points, including an 8-of-10 performance from the free throw line.
Both teams shot below 35 percent from the field on the night, but Lakeland out-paced the Warriors at the free throw line with 20 made free throws to four.
Laete paced Wisconsin Lutheran with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The Warriors struggled from behind the 3-point line, completing only three of 20 attempts.
Lakeland advances to the NAC Tournament Championships against a familiar Benedictine squad. Benedictine advances after defeating Concordia Wisconsin 53-50. The Muskies knocked off the Eagles 66-61 in the NAC Challenge game and won both games this season against the NAC South opponent.
"Benedictine is playing extremely well right now," Johnson said. "They have a talented group of perimeter shooters and Jenn Bren is someone we need to focus on stopping inside."
Lakeland and Benedictine tip off on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7:00 p.m. in Moose & Dona Gymnasium for the NAC Championship and automatic bid into the NCAA Div. III Tournament.