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SMC BASKETBALL: Saint Mary’s to host last-place Tri-State Thunder

Joe Meixell | Friday, January 27, 2006

As they head in to Saturday’s matchup with 2-17 Tri-State, the Belles appear to have turned the tide on their season. After losing three straight games to fall to 5-10, Saint Mary’s has won three of their last four contests and crawled up the rankings to fourth place in the MIAA.

According to coach Steve Bender, one reason for his team’s turnaround is the strong play of Saint Mary’s defense. In both the Albion and Alma games, Saint Mary’s played tough defense to hold leads and force opponents to make mistakes and take bad shots. Even during the Belles only loss in the past two weeks – a 53-52 setback at Adrian – the Belles staged a second half comeback thanks to a stiff defense.

Against Tri-State, the Belles’ coach is concerned with guarding the perimeter.

“One thing that we must do is defend the three, especially since they shot 30 last night,” Bender said. “We also have to stay strong at the post. That is where the difference in the game will be.”

To prepare the team for the Tri-State game, and games against Olivet and Calvin next week – the second and third teams in the MIAA – Coach Bender has had his team practice 5 on 7 and 4 on 6 drills.

“We need to prepare ourselves for the tough opponents we have in front of us and the way to do that is by making things tougher at practice,” said Bender.

The recent success of the Belles appears even more impressive considering that starting point guard Bridget Lipke has remained sidelined with a leg injury suffered against Albion.

Without their team leader on the court, the Belles have managed to win or stay close in all three games that Lipke has missed. She has not played one minute since her injury but she is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.

Bender attributed his teams’ success in part to freshman Meghan Conaty, who came off the bench to play the point during Lipke’s injury, allowing players like Allison Kessler to return to their regular positions. Kessler ran the point after Lipke was hurt but was able to return to her shooting guard spot when Conaty stepped up.

Bender hopes Lipke will be able to see some limited minutes against Tri-State.