Players aren’t normally diving for loose balls at halftime, but Columbia College needed an energy boost after a lackadaisical start Tuesday night.
The Cougars beat Harris-Stowe State 91-56 in the first round of the American Midwest Conference women’s basketball tournament at The Arena of Southwell Complex.
The No. 17 Cougars (25-7) turned the ball over in their first three possessions, which prompted coach Mike Davis to substitute his five reserves with 18:41 left in the first half.
“We just came out with really a lack of energy,” Davis said. “As a coach, it’s your job to have your team ready to go, and I obviously didn’t tonight. We tried a few different little motivational things to see if we could get some energy.”
Although the Cougars led 39-24 at halftime, Davis had his players competing in full-contact drills for most of the intermission. He said his team must learn to be more physical if it wants to succeed in the postseason.
“I know the last two years, at the national tournament, we’ve really been manhandled there,” he said. “That is one thing we’ve really stressed, especially from Christmas on, is being a very physical team. When we’re physical, we’re a pretty good team.”
The Cougars extended their winning streak to 17, which ties the school record. Tiffany Foote, who led the Cougars with 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting, said the record doesn’t add pressure.
“I think the next win is more motivation than the tie,” she said.
The Cougars advance to play Hannibal-LaGrange at 7 p.m. Friday at The Arena of Southwell Complex. Hannibal-LaGrange beat Missouri Baptist 71-62 on Tuesday in its first-round matchup.
Lisa Kowalewski’s shooting was one of the Cougars’ few bright spots in the first half. She scored 14 of her 17 points before intermission and made 5-of-9 3-pointers.
Kowalewski was named AMC Player of the Week for her performances against William Woods on Feb. 24 and McKendree (Ill.) on Saturday. She averaged 23.5 points in those contests.
“It’s a great honor,” she said. “My team is making great passes to get the open shots. You can’t get individual honors without a great team.”
The Cougars shot 57.1 percent and held the Hornets (8-26) to 38.6 percent. Mindy Mitchem, the nation’s leading shot blocker, had seven blocks after swatting a career-high eight against McKendree.
“We have to have (Mitchem) play well, because we’re funneling that ball right into her,” Davis said. “If she’s not challenging those shots, then what we’re trying to do doesn’t work. She’s really big for us on the defensive end.”
The Cougars shot 95 percent from the foul line, including 11-of-12 from Charliss Ridley. She scored 21 and tied Mitchem with a game-high nine rebounds.