The Oakland University women’s basketball team continued its improved play and won for the third straight game, 64-44 Monday against the Western Illinois Leathernecks.
The Grizzlies dominated on the defensive end, holding the Leathernecks to 25 percent shooting from the field and forcing 18 turnovers in the game. Head coach Beckie Francis said she thought the improved play of the defense and the recent improvement in the win column is no coincidence.
“I think our defense is improving and I think that’s why we are winning. I still think our defense can get better and smarter; I was a little upset with the fouls we were committing,” Francis said. “Maybe I am being picky, but I was just unhappy that they got to the line 17 times.”
Oakland held just a two-point lead with 12 minutes remaining in the first half when the Grizzlies began to pull away. On five consecutive trips up the floor, Oakland either caused a WIU turnover or forced the Leathernecks to shoot a long-distance 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.
The Grizzlies capitalized on their series of defensive stops, going on an 11-0 run over the next five minutes.
Leading the scoring run was sophomore guard Sharise Calhoun, who went 4 for 4 from the field in the first half and finished the game with eight points and two steals.
“I always have pride in my defense, but also I just try to be that spark plug and getting everybody into it,” Calhoun said. “Everybody played great defense today; I always take pride in (my defense), but it’s way better when the whole team gets stops.”
The Grizzlies were especially stingy in the second half as Western Illinois was only able to convert four field goals and shot just 16 percent from the floor. According to Calhoun, this is welcome news and shows an improvement over previous games.
“Our second halves have been a little slower of a start for us defensively (this season),” Calhoun said. “That’s what our focus has been all week in practice — getting stops and really focusing on team defense.”
Senior forward Melissa Jeltema extended her streak of scoring in double figures to 29 games by putting 22 points to lead all scorers. Jeltema scored the first 10 of Oakland’s points on the night.
“I did not really think about being aggressive, I just saw an open lane and I took it,” Jeltema said. “I think they fouled me three times in the beginning of the game, so I just started out the game on the line.”
She also knocked down a career high three 3-pointers.
“I am just really relaxed out there and my teammates are setting good screens for me and getting me the ball when I am open,” Jeltema said.
Overall, it was a balanced scoring attack by the Black and Gold, with all 12 players seeing minutes and 10 of them scoring.
Forwards Hanna Reising and Bethany Watterworth each scored eight points.
Francis said she was very pleased to see so many players involved in the scoring and credited her team’s motion offense for helping to get so many open chances to shoot.
“We had 21 assists on 23 of our baskets because our players are unselfish and they don’t care who takes the shot,” Francis said. “In fact, I thought that the last couple of minutes we were too unselfish.”
Oakland will take its three-game winning streak on the road this week with a pair of games against Summit League foes, facing Centenary College on Saturday and Oral Roberts on Monday.
Six of the team’s next eight games are away from the friendly confines of the O’Rena. While confident in her team, Francis said she knows that the rest of this month will surely be a rough test.
“I feel really good, we are healthy and we’re fresh,” Francis said. “It was really nice having this break, but now (the players) are going to be starting classes and we are heading to the road. I’ve got a lot of new players on this team and they don’t know what it’s like to travel on the road into this conference and it’s tough.”