A small adjustment the Columbia College women’s basketball team made has made a big difference lately.
The Cougars’ interior defense played halfway in front of the opposition and challenged the passing lanes for much of the season, but its recent focus has been playing behind and contesting shots.
The Cougars’ strategy paid dividends in their 99-56 victory against Illinois-Springfield on Tuesday at The Arena of Southwell Complex in an American Midwest Conference game. The win extends the Cougars’ winning streak to six and puts them one-half game ahead of McKendree (Ill.) for the AMC lead.
The Cougars (14-7, 5-0 AMC) held the Prairie Stars to 33.8 percent shooting thanks in large part to Mindy Mitchem’s intimidating presence in the lane. Mitchem made five of the Cougars’ nine blocks and added seven rebounds.
“I think everyone on the team does a good job contesting shots,” she said. “I think we’re all doing a better job helping each other out on defense.”
Mitchem is the NAIA’s second-leading shot blocker, averaging 2.8 per game.
Lisa Kowalewski, a junior guard, led the Cougars with 24 points and eight rebounds.
“Mindy’s blocked shots are just starting everything,” she said. “It gets the crowd into it, it gets us into it and we’ve been playing with a lot of energy.”
The Cougars’ excellent defense jump-started their fast-break offense.
Tiffany Foote, a junior guard, relentlessly pushed the ball and found teammates filling the lanes. She led the Cougars with nine assists and five steals. She also scored 18 on 7-of-10 shooting, but she said she was most pleased with the two turnovers she committed.
“I think I’m making better decisions,” she said. “I’m not hesitating on dumb passes, so that’s helping on turnovers. I’m trying to cut it down.”
Forward LeAnn Fossum took full advantage of Foote’s creative ability in the open court. Fossum frequently beat her defender down court and scored 17 on 8-of-9 shooting.
“LeAnn has been so aggressive all year, and right now, she is getting a feel for how to harness that aggressiveness and that energy,” Cougars coach Mike Davis said. “She has a big motor to her. She goes hard and, as athletic as she is, it really makes for some energy for the whole team to feed off of.”
The game started erratically with both teams committing several unforced turnovers. The Cougars settled and accumulated a seemingly insurmountable 48-20 halftime lead.
After leading early, the Cougars went on a 15-2 run that extended their lead to 21-7.
The Prairie Stars (6-15, 1-4) responded, forcing Davis to call a timeout with 6:17 left in the first and his team leading 27-16.
The Cougars finished the first half on a 21-4 run.