Huskies dominate Benedictine in Exhibition

By Eddie Garcia

The women’s basketball team continued where they left off last year, as they began the 2017-18 season Saturday with a 68-point win over the Benedictine Eagles in an exhibition game.

The Huskies defeated the Eagles 96-28 in the first action they’ve seen on the court since March 16.

NIU began scoring right out of the gates as they were able to get out to an early 24-4 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Head Coach Lisa Carlsen stood true to her word on spreading the floor on offense as 9 of 10 players who played in the first quarter scored a basket.

“Our ability to share the basketball is going to be key for us all year,” Carlsen said. “We have a lot of people who can do damage, and I think that was evident, obviously in the first half and really throughout the game.”

The Huskies were able to capitalize on the Eagles’ mistakes as they forced 14 turnovers in the first half. The Huskies went into halftime with a commanding 45-12 lead and never looked back.

Starting senior forward Kelly Smith and sophomore guard Janae Poisson led the first half in scoring with nine points each. Smith finished the game as the leading scorer with 18 points and five rebounds while shooting 8-of-12 from the field.

Almost every player on the roster saw playing time for the Huskies, including redshirt freshman guard Paulina Castro. Castro sat out all of last season because of her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that attacks the immune system.

A few moments after checking into the game late in the fourth quarter, Castro hit a three-point field goal, her only shot of the game and her first of her college career.

{{tncms-inline account=”TopShelf_NIU” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Awesome moment: Redshirt freshman Paulina Castro checks in & immediately knocks down a triple. Crowd erupts 🐾🐾🐾</p>— Top Shelf Sports (@TopShelf_NIU) <a href="">November 4, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”926898161246982145″ type=”twitter”}}

“You know there’s nothing that puts a bigger smile on my face than to see success come to that kid after everything she’s been through,” Carlsen said. “She is the ultimate teammate. I want nothing but great things to happen for her, so that was just a little bit of icing on the cake.”

{{tncms-inline account=”cassidyglenn_” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">so proud of you P! strongest person i know 💜 <a href="">@castro11paulina</a> <a href=""></a></p>— Cassidy • (@cassidyglenn_) <a href="">November 4, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”926936441065795589″ type=”twitter”}}

Two of the three freshman players who saw minutes scored in double figures for NIU, with freshman forward Riley Blackwell leading the way with 13 points and seven rebounds, as she went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field.

Freshman guard Errin Hodges finished the game with 10 points on 3-5 from the field, while freshman guard Gabby Nikitinaite went 1-6 with four total points in 19 minutes of play.

{{tncms-inline account=”tnb030″ html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The nasty no-look shovel pass by Gabby Nikitinaite tho 👀</p>— Tom Burton (@tnb030) <a href="">November 4, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”926894604946993152″ type=”twitter”}}

Hodges and Blackwell combined for 23 of the team’s 41 bench points, good for just over 56 percent of the scoring off the bench.

The Huskies were extremely active on defense as they were able to score 21 points off of 29 total turnovers in the game from the Eagles.

“[Defense] is definitely something we have been focusing on in the off season,” junior guard Courtney Woods said. “I think last year we finished fourth worst in the country in points allowed last season, so we are trying to implement [defense] along with still playing the fast pace offense.”

The Huskies look to carry over this momentum on the road as they will head into their first game of the regular season against Eastern Illinois University 6 p.m. Friday in Charleston, Illinois.