Women’s basketball starts conference play at 2-1

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

After a 5-0 start for the women’s basketball team, the Wildcats have dropped two of their last four, including a conference loss at home to MidAmerica Nazarene. But after a 77-69 road victory at Evangel on Wednesday night the No. 23 Wildcats are now 7-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play.

Against Evangel, Baker led 20-7 at the end of the first quarter, but the Wildcats struggled in the second quarter, allowing the Crusaders to go on an 18-7 run to end the half. Baker trailed 33-32 at the break.

Going into the fourth quarter Baker trailed 56-52. Sophomore Caitlin Modesett opened the fourth quarter with three straight baskets, and the Baker full-court pressure came to life, adding to a total of 21 Evangel turnovers.

Then sophomore Sydney Buchel took control of the offensive glass. Buchel scored four straight baskets in the fourth quarter to propel Baker into the lead in the final minutes. Buchel had yet to score on the season before Wednesday night’s game, but she finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Buchel’s contributions were crucial since senior Macy Wallisch and junior Kenzie Cook fouled out of the game.

Senior Jami Hodge finished the game with a career-high 20 points and 9 rebounds, while senior Ericka Simpson finished with 19 points, 3 steals and 2 assists. Modesett knocked down 5-15 from the field for 12 points.

Baker started the season with four nonconference victories against Midland, Grace, Ottawa and Saint Mary. Then the Wildcats opened up Heart of America Athletic Conference play with a 66-46 win at Avila in Kansas City, Missouri, and a 69-66, down-to-the-wire loss to MNU.

Baker opened up the Thanksgiving break with a tough road victory at Haskell 58-51 in Lawrence. Modesett and Simpson each played at least 32 minutes. Modesett led Baker with 17 points and Simpson scored 12 with 6 assists.

Wallisch had her best week of the season in the games against Haskell and Columbia College last week. Wallisch, who has played most of her games this season in foul trouble, scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds against Haskell and then scored a season-high 16 points with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks in the team’s 66-55 loss to Columbia. Wallisch missed two easy baskets early before finishing the game 5-9 from the field and 6-6 at the line.

Head coach Ben Lister’s stout defense has allowed opponents eight points per game less than last season, and the Wildcats have held opponents to fewer than 66 points per game in five of their eight games. Baker is also outscoring opponents by 14 points and only allowing opponents to score 53 points on average.

Another key for Baker has been the three-point shooting. Last season Baker shot 31 percent from beyond the arc, but the 2015-16 Wildcats are knocking down 40 percent from downtown. In Baker’s loss to Columbia College last Saturday, the Wildcats shot a season-worst 19 percent from three-point land, hitting 3-16.

Modesett, Simpson and Hodge are all averaging double digits in points per game. Modesett has more than doubled her average from last season, 5.9 per game, with a team-high 14.4 per contest.

Junior Kelsey Larson has started every game for Baker, with the exception of Wednesday night’s game due to being sick, and is third on the team in rebounds, 30, and second in assists with 18. Cook is playing more than any other bench player at 14.3 minutes per game and has supplied the team’s post spark. Freshman Jess Zweifel has been another important guard behind Modesett, Simpson and Hodge. Zweifel is only playing 11 minutes per game but has been important as the fourth point guard.

Baker hosts the Missouri Valley College Vikings at the Collins Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Vikings are coming off of a 69-52 loss to Benedictine on Wednesday night and are 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play. Baker and Missouri Valley split games last season.