It has been over a year since the Taylor women’s basketball team dropped consecutive games, but after tough losses at the hands of 10th-ranked University of Saint Francis and Grace College, that run is over.
Taylor (24-3, 12-3) lost in overtime to Grace (18-9, 9-6) on Feb. 5 by a final score of 69-63. Then in a top-10 match-up with Saint Francis (21-5, 12-3) last Saturday, they struggled down the stretch losing 78-64 in a game that felt closer than the final score indicated.
Against Saint Francis, the Trojans managed to cut the deficit to 54-58 early in the fourth period on a bucket from senior guard Sydney Huffman. With the lead still at four later in the quarter, Saint Francis made consecutive threes, and kept Taylor off the board for nearly four minutes in the middle of the period, which proved enough to hold onto the victory.
Huffman finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists, with only one turnover. She currently stands at 21st in the NAIA in assist/turnover ratio at 2.04. Seniors Abby and Becca Buchs chipped in 16 and 14 points, respectively. Sophomore Merideth Deckard came off the bench to score 16, 7 of which came from the charity stripe as she was aggressive in getting to the line.
“We knew they had some weak defenders moving laterally,” Deckard said of the free throw attempts. “So our game plan was to attack them and that’s what we did.”
Despite the strong shooting from the line, Taylor struggled offensively as the No. 1 team in the NAIA in three-point shooting only shot 26% from deep.
This, combined with Saint Francis’ ability to score off the Trojans’ 13 turnovers, was too tough to overcome.
“I felt like Saint Francis was more focused and aggressive,” said Head Coach Jody Martinez. “In our three losses the turnover categories have hurt us. I think teams have been playing more physical, and we’re not a physical team; we’re more finesse.”
Along with the turnovers, their three losses have also had the common factor of poor shooting from deep.
In their loss to Marian University on Jan. 29, they shot 18% and in the loss to Grace they shot 31%.
“It’s a matter of not making good looks,” Martinez said. “And that all piles up because when we’re able to hit threes, we’re able to open up the inside.”
Taylor has also been dealing with injuries these last few weeks. According to Martinez, of the 14 members of the roster, 11 are dealing with some form of injury at this point.
Sophomores Lauren James and Kiara Nieto are redshirting the season due to injury and sophomore forward Kayla Kirtley missed games with an injured knee, but is now playing with a brace. Freshman guard Haley Harrison wasn’t practicing as of early last week, but Martinez felt confident that she should be back to practice soon. Martinez said most players at this point are dealing with some form of nagging injury as the regular season nears its end.
“It’s a rhythm issue,” Martinez said of the injuries. “Because you just don’t know who’s able to practice and who’s not. It’s hard to get your reps in and your game prep in before the competition. It’s a disruption right now but we’ll figure it out, we’re still battling.”
Despite the injuries and recent losses, Taylor is still in a great spot. They’re one game out of first in the Crossroads League and maintain a tremendous 24-3 overall record.
They know it comes down to how well they can overcome these last few weeks.
“Confidence wise we’re fine,” Becca Buchs said. “We know we’re a really good team, we just need to be able to get over this adversity and come back stronger as a team.”
Their first game after the Saint Francis loss showed signs of a turnaround. They shot 41.7% from three in Wednesday’s 85-49 rout of Goshen College (8-19, 1-14). Senior Haley Stratman led the team with 21 points and 5 3-pointers made. Senior Jamie Netzley and Deckard also scored in double-figures for the Trojans.
After road games against Mount Vernon and Huntington last Saturday and Wednesday, the Trojans will wrap up their regular season with a home game Saturday against rival Indiana Wesleyan. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.