Photo by Jeff Vorva
St. Xavier’s Kara Krolicki, who set the school record for most career points on Thursday, tries to get by the Concordia defense on Friday.
It’s been a very odd holiday season for No. 1 ranked NAIA Division II team in the country – the St. Xavier University’s women’s basketball team.
There were times the Cougars received bars of goal and times they received lumps of coal in an 11-day stretch to end 2017.
The first bar of gold was when they got to go to Hawaii to play a couple of games. The first lump of coal was when they were shocked by unranked Wayland Baptist University (Texas), 84-77, on Dec. 19 as they committed 22 turnovers.
The second bar of gold came with a 55-52 survival against Carroll (Montana) the next day. The second lump of coal was that they scored just six points in the third quarter to let Carroll back into the game.
The third bar of gold came Thursday at the Shannon Center with a 105-53 win over Goshen in the SXU Holiday Classic as Kara Krolicki became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,331 points after her 25 performance. The third lump of coal came Friday when the highly anticipated battle with No. 2 Concordia (Nebraska) turned into a rout in a 81-60 loss on the second day of the Holiday Classic and Krolicki was held to three points.
A fourth bar of gold came with the performance of freshman Meg Knutson, who came all the way from Florida to turn up the heat during these single-digit days as she scored 15 points against Goshen and 12 more against Concordia and was given an All-Tournament plaque on her 19th birthday. But she couldn’t totally enjoy the moment because of the blowout loss.
It was the first time the Cougars lost by 20 or more points since March 13, 2014 when they dropped a 68-43 decision to the College of the Ozarks in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament -- a span of 119 games.
Veteran coach Bob Hallberg may have forgotten what it’s like to get beaten so soundly, but he had a bad reminder on Friday.
“This wasn’t a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 – it was a battle between No. 1 and No. 30,” Hallberg said.
The next NAIA poll comes out Tuesday and the Cougars will be bumped from the No. 1 spot but might not fall too far down.
Things started out well as they took a 17-9 lead against Concordia (15-0) but then – POW. They committed 28 turnovers, which had Hallberg hot.
“We cannot be that careless with the ball and expect to be in the game,” he said. “And in a big game, your stars have to step up. The stars didn’t step up. Anybody can play against cupcakes. They put a little pressure on us and we acted like we never played basketball before.’’
What’s next for the Cougars (12-2) after being steamrolled and committing 28 turnovers?
They took a couple of days off and were scheduled to be back at practice on Tuesday. Hallberg was at a loss as to how to fix the turnover problem.
“There are certain skills that you can teach,” he said. “But you can’t teach (preventing) panic. You can work on shooting. You can work on boxing out. The mental aspect of taking care of the ball? You can’t teach that. It’s just something they have to do.’’
Knutson said. “We’re just going to have to come back and work harder than we have been working.’’
The Cougars open 2018 with a home game against Governors State University on Saturday and visit Trinity Christian College on Wednesday before hitting a tough stretch of hosting Cardinal Stritch (which received votes in the latest poll) on Jan.13, 14th-ranked University of St. Francis in Joliet on Jan. 17 and 13th-ranked Olivet Nazarene in Kankakee on Jan. 20.