Against Hope International University on Thursday evening, one motif emerged for The Master’s University women’s basketball team: Identity.
“The word for today was identity,” said Rebekah Throns. “We really wanted to play with that and we want to be a team that defensively stops people and that’s kind of our identity that we want to play with.”
That identity took shape as the game progressed and eventually led to a 76-47 win over the Royals at Bross Court.
The Mustangs (6-3 overall, 2-1 in GSAC) struggled to find that identity at the start of the game, allowing Hope International to gain a 9-7 lead that started with two 3-pointers from Sydney Lopez.
TMU managed to tie it up at 7-7 on a layup from Anika Neuman, then at 9-9 on a layup from Stephanie Soares, who fended off multiple Royals defenders in the process.
After a timeout with 3:40 left in the frame, Hope International went on a six-point run that gained them a 20-19 advantage. The Mustangs showed a glimpse of what was to come when they took the lead back on two smooth layups within 30 seconds of each other, but HIU’s Rhianne Omori sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to knot the score at 23-all.
The message at the break was simple: Switch up the defense to limit the Royals’ 3-point shooting.
“We knew they were going to figure out some play for our zone that we were playing,” said Soares, “So we were just trying to keep playing hard, know who the shooters are, where they’re on the corners and scramble.”
Master’s limited Hope International (8-3, 1-3) to just seven points in the second quarter, while scoring 20 for itself.
The third quarter saw even stronger defense, with the Mustangs allowing no points. A Sabrina Thompson pass in the paint through traffic to Soares that resulted in a quick basket was evidence that the offense was beginning to flow as well.
“Begin strong with the ball and like, just like, breathing a little bit,” Throns, who finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks, said.
“Not getting rushed and playing how they play and frantic and stuff. It’s just like, being strong with it, ripping through, passing, crisp passes, looking inside, looking outside.”
Hannah Ostrom also made her season debut after injury kept her out of the last nine games, entering the game with less than five minutes to go in the third. She scored once on a layup in the fourth quarter, but her presence on the court provided her team with more motivation than points ever could.
“She’s been working really hard, recovering and stuff, so it was really good to see her back out there and try to get the ball a couple times,” Throns said. “She’ll be back in there soon killing it.”
The Royals fought back one final time in the fourth quarter, playing a physical game throughout the remainder of the game despite being outmatched height-wise.
The Mustangs hung tight and shot from myriad angles to maintain their double-digit lead.
“Just hold the ball strong. Just keep your elbows out, just play tough,” Soares, who led the team with 16 points, said. “We knew that the refs weren’t calling the fouls, but we just need to play tough and hold the ball and dribble, protect that all at the same time.”
TMU looks to keep its tough, defensive identity as it returns to action on Saturday at San Diego Christian.