Gene's Blog: Winter starts well for Ruth, Duke, Johnny
December 15, 2011
Taylor Young made 19-of-20 free throws in huge wins over Gustavus and St. Olaf. (Thomas Whisenand photo)
There are plenty of games yet to be played over the final eight weeks of the MIAC winter seasons, but the early results are encouraging for our teams in purple.
St. Thomas will go into January in first place in three of the four MIAC winter-sport standings –- men’s hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball.
While all three were picked as the teams to beat in the preseason vote of conference head coaches, such predictions often are a reflection of past success. The downside is they usually make teams more of a target and can be a distraction.
Coach Ruth Sinn’s women, Duke Boeser’s men’s hockey squad, and John Tauer’s men’s hoopsters have all exceeded expectations so far.
The Tommie women’s hoops team is off the program’s best start in 10 seasons, since the 2001-02 Toms raced to a 12-1 record. UST has posted its best December showing (5-0) in Sinn’s seven-year tenure. Going back to February 2010, St. Thomas is 28-5 against MIAC opponents.
The Tommies have won seven in a row since opening with a double-digit loss at No. 7-ranked UW-Stevens Point. They are allowing just 54.5 points on the season while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. Four different Toms have led the team in scoring in the eight games thus far.
They’ve done it without bunches of 3-point baskets, too -- UST has made less than four per game and been outscored by opponents from beyond the arc.
On Tuesday, the Tommies rallied to beat previously-unbeaten St. Olaf, 62-57. Sophomore Taylor Young led the way with a career-high 27 points. St. Thomas has won 14 of its last 15 games when Young has scored in double figures.
UST comes into January in a share of first place with Bethel (5-0). With 12 games to play in a 30-day span from Jan. 2-Feb. 1, St. Thomas’ depth and durability will be tested.
Senior Sarah Smith has been a steady force at forward. She’s averaging 11.2 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 65.4 percent from the field. In games when Smith scores in double figures on her career, the Tommies are 18-3.
Tommie men’s hockey (8-3-2 overall, 4-1-1 MIAC) finds itself with a one-point lead over Concordia, with four others teams lurking close behind. There are still 10 MIAC games left to be played in what is shaping up to be the most balanced top-to-bottom conference races in memory.
The influx of Juniors players has improved parity across the conference. (Look for a Star Tribune story soon on that subject). Six different schools won the MIAC men’s hockey crown in a six-year span from 2004-10.
Close games are expected to be the rule this season. Of the 36 games played this far head-to-head with MIAC teams, four have been tied, 19 have been decided by one goal, six by two goals, and just seven by three or more goals.
The Tommies’ eight victories have come by a combined 12 goals, and all three defeats have come by one goal.
Boeser doesn’t have one established lights-out scorer, and expects a parade of different players to share the offensive load. So far 15 different Toms have at least one goal. In three wins over St. John’s, the Tommies’ 15 goals came from 11 different players. Riley Horgan has 10 assists in 13 games.
John Tauer’s Tommie men’s team (7-1 overall, 4-0 MIAC) moved up two spots to No. 14 in this week’s D3hoops.com national Division III poll.
All four of the Tommies’ MIAC wins have come by double-digit margins, including victories over contenders Gustavus, St. Olaf and Hamline.
The Tommies are averaging 81.6 points over the first eight games, including 37.1 bench points, and converting 52.4 percent from the field. Eight different players have scored in double figures at least once.
Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley Walters had a note in Tuesday’s newspaper on UST’s fast start and quoted Tauer: “It's a dream job, and it's been great. I learned a lot from Steve (Fritz). We've had some ups and downs, and our inexperience at times shows, but I love how hard they play. They play with a lot of passion, and they're really unselfish."
UST is 90-9 over the last four seasons -- the best record in NCAA men's basketball. That includes a 62-5 record against conference opponents, and a 34-1 record on campus.
In games when senior guard Peter Leslie scores in double figures on his career, UST is 7-0. In games when junior guard Will DeBerg scores in double figures on his career, the Toms are 8-1. In career games when junior forward John Nance scores in double figures, UST is 12-1.
The Toms are off this week as they prepare for finals exams. They play Dec. 22 at No. 25-ranked UW-Stevens Point, then resume MIAC play Jan. 2 at St. John’s.
St. Thomas scored team points nationally in just two fall sports but it should finish in the fall season top 25 when the NACDA Learfield Directors’ Cup scoring is announced next Wednesday.
St. Thomas scored 73 points in volleyball as it tied for fifth in the nation, and should get 83 points in football after it tied for third place. Although it had the NCAA men's cross country champion in Ben Sathre UST didn't get CC points as it didn't advance a team to nationals.