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SMC Basketball

Belles to battle Knights for final home game

| Wednesday, February 11, 2015

After a heartbreaking 71-70 loss to overtime loss to Kalamazoo last weekend, Saint Mary’s (3-19, 1-12 MIAA) has just one more home contest this season Saturday against Calvin (21-0, 12-0 MIAA). The struggling Belles, currently last in the MIAA, will face a Knights team that boasts a No. 7 national ranking and sits in first place in the conference standings.

Junior Eleni Shea prepares for a free throw shot against Trine on Jan. 28. Shea and the Belles look to end their current slump against No. 7 Calvin on Saturday.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Junior forward Eleni Shea prepares for a free throw shot against Trine on Jan. 28. Shea and the Belles look to end their current slump against No. 7 Calvin on Saturday.

Calvin features one of the highest-powered offenses in the country and is coming off an 80-59 thrashing of Adrian on Saturday. Led by senior guard Breanna Verkaik, the Knights shoot 44.5 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

On the other hand, Saint Mary’s will rely on senior guard Ariana Paul to lead the offense. Paul averages 14.8 points and nine rebounds per game, and she has established herself as the team’s most vocal presence on the court, Belles coach Jennifer Henley said.

“[She’s been] our leader all season long,” Henley said. “She has certainly established herself in this program and in the MIAA.”

Ultimately, Henley said she believes any chance the Belles have of success against Calvin will rest heavily on protecting the basketball and limiting turnovers. The Belles have a season average of 22.1 turnovers per game, while Calvin is averaging only 15.7. In addition, Henley said Saint Mary’s must run a lockdown transition defense in order to slow down Verkaik, who is shooting 52.5 percent from beyond the arc.

“Calvin has many threats on offense,” Henley said. “We really need to work on our transition game [on defense] and not lose players like Verkaik on the perimeter.”

In Saint Mary’s loss to Kalamazoo last Saturday, the Belles did show improvement rebounding and free-throw shooting, going above their season averages in both categories.

“We did a great job getting to the line and on the boards,” Henley said, “We shot the ball pretty well and did a good job getting looks inside.”

Henley said continuing that improvement in Saturday’s matchup will be key. The Belles and the Knights both average around 40 rebounds per game, but from the charity stripe, Calvin boasts a free throw percentage of 72.9 percent in MIAA play, while the Belles average just under 64 percent on the year.

Despite the team’s vastly different records, Henley said she is optimistic about the Belles’ chances this Saturday. The team’s one-point loss to Kalamazoo was the narrowest defeat of the Belles’ 16-game losing streak, and Henley said that if Saint Mary’s is able to attack the boards and improve their performance on the free-throw line, the Belles have a chance.

Saint Mary’s hosts Calvin this Saturday in its final home contest of the season. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.

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