FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Beating Aquinas College was like trying to open a Christmas present that your ornery brother wrapped. Eventually you get it opened; it just takes more time and muscle to tear through layers of tape and wrapping paper. But it was worth the extra effort.
Besides the 10th straight win to improve to 12-1, the gift was 'W' No. 150 for Gary Andrews in his seventh season as coach of the third-ranked Lady Cougars, an 80-71 win over a hard-nosed, in-your-face18th-ranked Aquinas College '5' at Hutzell Athletic Center.
"What matters most to me is that we battled back from an early deficit, at times executed well on defense and most of the game on offense, and in the end won against an Aquinas team that deserves to be in the (NAIA) Top 25," Andrews said. "We showed signs that we are capable of being a pretty good team, especially the last three games."
Andrews purposely set his schedule with a Wednesday game and then back-to-back weekend games.
"It's the way we may be scheduled if we make it to Sioux City," Andrews said. "We were focused despite all the seasonal distractions and took care of business today."
What about the players and win No. 150?
"I'm just glad I could be a part of it and help us keep our momentum going," senior Tara Dice said after scoring 18 points. "I'm happy for coach, but more importantly we're all focused on winning and going deep at nationals."
With Dice showing renewed confidence in her shooting touch from 3-point range, that's a very real likelihood. She hit 5-of-10 shots from 3-point range.
With Dice connecting long distance, Marie Kaufmann took care of scoring around the paint and joined Dice at the top of the USF scoring list with 18 points. Kacy Blotkamp came off the bench to score 17 and Jess Hathaway battled her way to 10 points.
Seiss, who had an unusual double-double with a team-leading 11 rebounds and 10 assists, echoed Dice's sentiments regarding Andrews' 150th win.
"It's been fun playing for coach (Andrews) and I'm just proud to be part of this milestone," Seiss said. "We really didn't know about it until we heard it on the PA after the game as we left the floor. It's quite an accomplishment, but none of us are ready to call it a season."
AC is now 11-2 after challenging the Lady Cougars right through to the final buzzer. Andrews expected a test from the Saints, who knocked off fifth-ranked Bethel College on the first day of the Lady Cougars Classic on Friday night. AC didn't disappoint racing out to a 7-0 lead on a Claire Hogan jumper, a Hogan 3-pointer and a Joslyn Narber driving lay-up with 17:44 to play in the first half.
USF answered with a 12-2 run that put the Lady Cougars in front 10-9 on a pair of Hathaway free throws and a Blotkamp baseline jumper for a 12-9 lead with 13:05 left in the half.
Momentum swung back in favor of the Saints, who won their first 10 games of the season, when Whitney Marsh drilled a 3-pointer for a 14-12 AC lead with 11:28 to play. It was the last lead for the Saints.
Dice rainbowed in a corner 3-pointer for a 15-14 USF lead with 10:33 to play. Her shot ignited a 32-15 surge in the final 10 minutes for the Lady Cougars and a 44-29 halftime lead. USF finished the first 20 minutes shooting 65 percent with Blotkamp cracking the double figure column with 13 points, Kaufmann 10.
The USF lead ballooned to 18 -- 53-35 on a Dice jumper with 15:31 to play in the second half. AC went on a 20-9 counter-run cutting the deficit in half to 64-55 on a Narber basket with 8:34 to play. USF retaliated opening up a 17-point 72-55 lead with an 8-0 run capped by a Hathaway 3-point play.
"It probably didn't feel like it if you were just watching, but we felt like we had control even when the lead dropped to single digits," Dice said. "I don't think any of us were worried."
Andrews had a different view.
"We wanted to take some time off the clock, but we still wanted to attack," Andrew said. "We got too tentative, but we did the job when we needed to."
Narber hit two free throws with 1:35 to play cutting the USF advantage to eight. AC was within eight two more times in the waning seconds, but never got any closer.
"Marie has really played awesome the last three-and-a-half games," Andrews said about his junior center who has hit 75 percent of her shots the last three games. "Toni Burney has an injury issue she's dealing with, yet she hit a big shot down the stretch. We're just having people step up each game at different time in different situations and make plays. Our offense played really well today."
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