Thunder getting defensive

The Thunder ended 2014 with a major bang on New Year’s Eve with a big win over Loras College at King Arena. Wheaton went into the game 9-1, ranked 14th in the country and coming off back-to-back wins. The Thunder started the game fast, jumping out to a 13-2 lead and never once relinquished the lead. Wheaton had the lead at only nine at halftime, but shortly after the break, Wheaton rattled off a 23-2 run to put the Duhawks in the rearview mirror. Wheaton eventually won handily, 68-41.

Though the Thunder did not shoot the ball particularly well, finishing with a line of 37.5 percent from the field and 18.8 from three, the defense was stout enough to keep the Duhawks from ever competing in the second half; Loras shot only 20.4 percent on the afternoon and their leading scorer had only six points. Junior Ellie Zeller led the way for the Thunder with 20 points while fellow junior Hannah Considine recorded a double double with 13 and 10.

Wheaton then opened up CCIW play on Jan. 3 on the road against Elmhurst. This time the Thunder started out slowly, trailing by as many as seven halfway through the first. But a 22-9 run, championed by eight straight points from sophomore guard Katie McDaniels, put Wheaton up by six heading into the break. After halftime, Elmhurst fought to stay close, but the Thunder maintained the lead from start to finish, and led by key buckets from, McDaniels, Zeller and Considine, held on to secure their first CCIW win 67-56.

McDaniels led the way with 20 points and Considine added 18, but once again it was a stout defensive performance that paved the way for a Thunder victory. The Bluejays managed only 33.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from the three-point line while turning over the ball 18 times.

The defense once again took center stage in the Thunder’s next game on Jan. 7 at Illinois Wesleyan. Early on, the contest looked similar to the previous game against Elmhurst, as Wheaton got out to an early lead and the Spartans nipped at their heels throughout the first half; the Thunder led only by five heading into halftime. In the second half, the Thunder exploded offensively, starting with a 14-4 run to start the half and eventually building up a 29 point lead. When it was all said and done, the Thunder left Bloomington with a convincing 72-46 victory.

The defense held their opponent to under 30 percent shooting for the second time in three games while also allowing the Spartans to make only two of 23 three point attempts. The Thunder also dominated the boards 52-29. The scoring was spread evenly across the board as McDaniels and senior Lauren Graham each had 13 to lead the way while Considine picked up another double double with 12 and 11.

Riding a five game win streak, the Thunder welcomed rival and 24th-ranked North Central to King Arena on Jan. 10. The contest was a high-scoring affair, reminiscent of the 2013 matchup when the Thunder beat the Cardinals 118-78 in a record-setting performance. On that night, the Thunder rode then-freshman Hannah Considine to the victory. On this night, once again it was Considine leading the way; the junior tallied career highs in points and rebounds with 36 and 21.

Wheaton jumped out to an early lead in the first half and held a 13 point advantage at halftime but North Central chipped at the Thunder armor throughout the second half. About halfway through the second half, the lead was down to four, but freshman Jennifer Berg converted a pair of three-point plays and a three-point shot to put Wheaton up 11. From that point on, the Cardinals never threatened and Wheaton won the offensive affair 100-86. It was the fourth time in the last five meetings with North Central that Wheaton had put up triple digits. Considine’s 36 points was the fifth highest single game total in Thunder history and her 21 rebounds were the second most behind Maris Hovee’s 22 from a year ago.

When Hovee graduated in May, there were questions as to how the Thunder would replace her presence both on defense and rebounding. With the performances this season of Considine, Berg, and Graham, those questions have dissipated.  For her performance, Considine picked up a pair of national honors, earning CCIW player of the week and being named to the team of the week.

Coming off the big win over North Central and riding a six game win streak, the Thunder women looked to avoid a letdown on the road against North Park. The Vikings looked to play spoiler early, jumping out to a 15-7 lead in the first 10 minutes in large part due to the Thunder missing 10 of their first 12 shots. The shooting did not get any better as the half wore on, as they went into the making only seven of 28 shots and trailing 32-16, by far their poorest single half total of the season.

The second half started equally roughly with the Vikings building up a 42-24 lead six minutes in. It appeared that the Thunder were getting something going after stringing a couple of buckets together and cutting the lead to 13, but it proved to be for naught as they never got back in the game and fell 62-48.

McDaniels had a respectable shooting performance, leading with 11 points on five of nine shooting, but as a whole the Thunder shot poorly at only 35.7 percent. Even that number was misleading as Wheaton strung a couple of baskets together to get 20, but for most of the game the percentage hung below 30. A major stain on the stat sheet was the three-point shooting, as only four of 24 attempts went through. The loss served as the first of the conference season for the Thunder and halted their win streak at six games.

Wheaton will look to get back on track Saturday as they travel to Rock Island to take on Augustana. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.

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