Women’s basketball extinguishes Loyola offense in a decisive 19-point win
Post players Vres and Johns come up big for AU’s offense
Thanks to a potent offensive attack and dazzling performances from its two young bigs, the American University women’s basketball team (2-3) cruised to a vital 64-45 in-division win over Loyola (0-3) Saturday. Even on an afternoon in which the Greyhounds kept AU junior guard Jade Edwards at bay, the Eagles' secondary scorers brought enough energy and production to secure the victory.
“We started focused from the first minute, … and as the game progressed, we just kept going,” sophomore forward Karla Vres said postgame. “In past weekends, we would have these little dips. But we kept coming back to what was working.”
Vres came to play in her first career start, dropping seven of the Eagles' first 12 points in the opening minutes. Vres would continue to light the Greyhounds up throughout the contest, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks after averaging just 1.5 points per game last year.
“I mean, these are the shots that I usually take in practice, and I was of course a little extra excited today because it was my first career start,” Vres said. “There was no specific green light I would say. Coach knows my shots and so does the team, and they were looking for me.”
The Eagles took a 15-13 lead into the second quarter on the back of Vres, but not without a challenge from Loyola after Edwards, who leads the Patriot League in scoring, picked up two quick fouls. Battling yet another short rotation, head coach Megan Gebbia opted to keep Edwards on the bench for the entirety of the second quarter.
The non-Edwards offense presented growing pains for AU, as the team stagnated until freshman Emily Johns emerged from the bench and knocked down eight straight Eagle points to team up five. AU ran much of its offense through the post Saturday — just as Bucknell had done to overpower the Greyhounds two weeks prior — with Johns and Vres at the center of the attack. The Eagles outscored Loyola 34-16 in the paint, a formidable showing on the road.
“It was a good win in the sense that this is our fifth game on the road,” Gebbia said. “We’re starting to play a little bit better. We came out with some energy which was nice to see.”
Gebbia said the balanced offensive attack is valuable to the team’s success, and gives her a lot of confidence moving forward.
“When you have to guard everyone on the floor, it’s going to put people’s defenses in a tough situation because now they have to figure out ‘who are we going to focus on,’'' Gebbia said. “So it’s a great feeling compared to last year, when we relied heavily on Katie [Marenyi] and Jade to score.”
AU locked in on the defensive end, as well, and entered halftime up 28-23. Gebbia attributed much of the team’s success to junior forward Taylor Brown, who anchored the defense and helped the Eagles hold Loyola to 31.4 percent shooting.
The start of the second half nearly spelled doom for AU, though, as Loyola opened with a full-court press that led to five AU turnovers in the first three minutes and caused Gebbia to call two quick timeouts.
“We just did silly things, and we haven’t really been pressured all year,” Gebbia said of the press. “Heading in tomorrow, we’re going to talk about different ways to get open and different press-breakers to use.”
Loyola’s run put AU down for the first time since early in the first quarter. Then came senior guard Indeya Sanders. Though she entered the second half shooting 0-6 from the field, the veteran guard gained confidence in the third quarter before AU lost its grip on the game.
With three minutes left in the quarter, Sanders skirted past the Greyhounds defense and finished at the hoop and converted and-one, sporting a signature flex and mean mug as her teammates helped her off the floor. The shot was the start of an 8-0 run from Sanders, which gave AU a 44-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter. She finished with 10 points, six rebounds and a team-high seven assists.
Each frame had its dominant scorer. Vres, Johns and Sanders each took the game over in their respective quarters, and Edwards closed it out with 9 fourth-quarter points.
The Greyhounds hadn’t played in about three weeks with cancellations due to positive tests in each of its prospective opponents’ programs. The rust showed. The team has revamped its system this year without Stephanie Karcz, who graduated last season after leading the country in steals per game. Loyola junior guard Taleah Dixon led her team with 12 points, with sophomore forward Emily McAteer also adding 10.
This game marked the second straight absence from junior guard Emily Fisher, who Gebbia hopes will return next weekend against Lafayette. Freshman guard Ivy Bales earned her second career start, playing 35 minutes -- the most from an AU freshman since Edwards’ first year. She added a team-high eight rebounds and finished with 9 points.
Looking ahead, Gebbia said her team will have to cut down on turnovers and continue to take high-percentage shots on the perimeter.
“It was nice to see us shoot the three better today. … I was telling them before the game, you need to hit five or six a game just to keep defenses honest,” Gebbia said. “That’s a huge positive step for us.”
AU will play the second game of its doubleheader at Bender Arena Sunday, the first home game for the Eagles of the season. This will be the second of six expected contests against the Greyhounds, as the league is still scheduling future games after the opening weekend’s postponement. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.