The Master’s University Mustangs women’s basketball suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday.
The Mustangs dropped a defensive battle with the visiting Wayland Baptist Queens, 62-58, in TMU’s first Thanksgiving Classic in six years.
The Master’s (7-1) led for a solid portion of the game but was never able to pull away from Wayland. TMU’s two leading scorers coming into Saturday, Isabela Hernandez and Marin Lenz, were both held scoreless throughout the first half and combined for 0-9 from the floor.
Shoring up the box score was freshman Nicole Chuang. The freshman guard rose to the occasion and finished the day with a game-high 19 points along with four assists, three rebounds and a steal.
“We are so versatile, anyone on our team can score,” Chuang said. “We mainly just work together as one and I think that’s how we win.”
Wayland earned its way into the bonus late in the game and kept finding its way back to the charity stripe. The Queens knocked down 13 of 19 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. Chuang hit a huge step-back 3-pointer to bring the Mustangs within two points but with just nine clicks just left in the game, it was too little too late.
TMU was hot off its seventh straight win to start the season, an 88-60 win over Bryan College to open the Classic on Friday. Master’s saw three of its own reach double digits in the rebounding category but struggled to bring down boards against Wayland.
Queens forward Megan Nestor created nearly a dozen extra chances for her team as she brought down 10 of 13 rebounds off the offensive glass. Wayland outrebounded Master’s, 54-45.
Linda Brice led Wayland with 14 points while point guard Emily Sagala and Nestor each added 13.
Senior Madeline Cooke led TMU with 15 rebounds and also climbed up the school record books on Saturday. Cooke’s four blocks against the Queens was enough to push the senior to third all-time in career blocks, where she now sits behind former fourth overall WNBA draft pick Stephanie Soares.
The Mustangs pride themselves on defense and nearly pulled away in the second thanks to three straight steals, including two from sophomore Kelly Lotz. TMU held Wayland without a field goal for over six minutes in the period but just couldn’t find enough offense to jump well in front.
“I think on the defensive end, we executed per usual and we did pretty well,” said TMU head coach Lisa Zamroz. “We focus a lot on the defensive end. For us that sparks just offensive confidence. And so I think keying in on our defense has been a huge part of it.”
“The only issue we had was offensive rebounds for them. We struggled to keep them off the glass. I think that was our biggest struggle overall for the game. It’s just they kind of out-toughed us and we didn’t get into it enough until it was a little bit too late.”
Hernandez and Lenz eventually got going in the third quarter. Hernandez hit back-to-back 3-balls to give her team life while Lenz broke into the lane and scored in the third quarter. The two combined for 18 points in the second half alone.
It was a tough scoring day for most of the Mustangs, as the team finished 6-for-33 from behind the arc.
“I feel like we could have hit more shots,” Chuang said. “We had to adjust to driving to the basket, attacking and kicking. I think we just need to work on that in practice.”
Chuang is one of several Mustang freshmen who have made an immediate impact on the team.
Hart alumna Laney Grider has also been a key contributor to TMU, alongside fellow underclassmen Abbie Mullins Lotz and Chuang. Having so many young players in the rotation left some uncertainties for the season but Zamroz was amazed by how quickly her team found its rhythm.
“We’re such a tight-knit group,” Zamroz said. “I knew that the vibe was there and we knew that everybody enjoyed each other off the court but with five new freshmen it’s a very different dynamic on the court and we weren’t sure how long that would take to gel, but they came in very confident and just secure in who they are. So basically, they just hit the ground running and it was a very quick transition for us to kind of get to know how they play on the court.”
Seven straight wins was as good of a start in that span that a team can ask for, but Chuang believes the early loss will be beneficial for the team. TMU hosting the Classic was also a chance for the team to get looks at different competition outside the Golden State Athletic Conference.
“This was a great opportunity for us to kind of put our name on the map nationally and just to see how we compete against other conferences, which we haven’t done as much in a couple of years,” Zamroz said. “I think that’s hurt us on the national ranking scale so we were really excited for the opportunity to see more competition from the other side of the country. I think it was a great show-out for us.”
While the loss wasn’t ideal, the Mustangs may well be on their way to another GSAC championship. Zamroz’s team was also 7-1 around Thanksgiving before eventually winning the conference title and reaching the NAIA National quarterfinals in 2022.
TMU returns to action on the road later this week when the team heads to the University of Redlands. The Mustangs and Bulldogs tip off on Thursday at 6 p.m.