In preparing for conference play, Navy’s women rolled to several blowout wins over lesser opponents, drawing attention to themselves within the Patriot League.
When conference play started, Navy stumbled. After routing Loyola, the Mids lost two in a row, leaving some doubt as to how good they might be.
After two straight victories, the Mids returned home Sunday and turned in one of their best performances of the season in routing archrival Army, 70-44.
The first period ended in a 10-10 tie. Over the final three periods, however, Navy outscored Army 60-34, pulling away with a 24-point third period when they shot 83.3 percent (10 for 12) from the floor.
Navy (14-3, 4-2 PL) has now won four of its first six league games, owns a three-game conference winning streak, is 10-0 at home, and hosts Lafayette on Wednesday.
“In the Patriot League, everyone defends everyone better; we haven’t been scoring as much,” said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. “We had those two losses in a row, now we have some wins. We’re just trying to keep getting better in how we play. I am glad we found a way to get some points on the board.”
“We think we’re a team that can compete for a championship,” she added.
Kaila Clark scored a career-high 21 points, including 12 in the second half, and grabbed seven rebounds.
“Winning is definitely better than losing. We’re getting our mojo back,” said Clark, who made 10 of 16 from the field.
Clark had scored just 17 points in the last three games.
Clark, Taylor Dunham and Hannah Fenske combined to score 55 points for Navy, which beat Army by at least 20 points for the first time since February 2001. Dunham scored 20 points, hitting all four of her 3-pointers in the second half. Fenske had 14 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second half, which began a game-clinching 22-8 run. Fenske added eight assists and five rebounds. Bianca Roach contributed six assists.
Playing without starting senior guard Jenae McNeal, the Black Knights still had plenty of firepower in forwards Aliyah Murray and Madison Hovren, the Patriot League’s preseason pick as Player of the Year. Navy effectively defended both players — with Clark and Laurel Jaunich playing major roles in what was the most important factor in the victory.
“Our defense had to do a pretty good job on (Murray and Hovren) for us to do well,” said Pemper. “We were trying to post them and make (Hovren) shoot over us and give her things to think about.”
Hovren scored a season-low five points, making only two of 13 shots from the floor. She grabbed 11 rebounds, but grew more frustrated as the game went on.
“They definitely got frustrated and it affected them. They ended up not happy with the way they played,” said Jaunich, who finished with a career-high nine rebounds and two blocked shots. “Since I am known for my rebounding and defense, I wanted to make an impact on defense.”
Murray had 11 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to give Army the offensive lift it needed. Libby Tacka finished as the Knights’ leading scorer with 12 points.
“Our defense got them a little rattled. They weren’t hitting the shots they were used to making, so that frustrated them even more,” said Clark, who blocked four shots. “On the offensive end, we were scoring, which was like kicking them when they were down.”
For Army, (9-8, 2-4), it was the second loss of 20 or more points in the last three games.
“We have kids who aren’t handling the pressure well,” said Army head coach Dave Magarity, who was coaching his 1,000th college game.
Navy’s defense held Army to a season-low 22 percent shooting (14 of 63) and had eight steals and six blocks. Despite the rebounding of Hovern and Murray, Navy edged Army on the boards 43-40.
Navy scored the first 11 points of the second quarter to take a 21-10. The Mids led 25-17 at the half and failed to make a 3-pointer in six tries, but Fenske made a 3-pointer to open the half and added another the next time down the court to make it 31-19. Two more baskets by Clark extended the Mids’ lead to 35-19.