Rio Grande Topples UC-Clermont, 87-71

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The Rio Grande RedStorm women’s basketball team overcame a halftime deficit Monday night to extend its winning streak to seven games, defeating the Cincinnati-Clermont Cougars (8-7) 87-71. The home victory improves the RedStorm’s record to 12-2 as they move into the new calendar year.

Rio Grande began the game with a quick 9-0 run and was able to knock down a number of threes. The RedStorm extended this lead to 28-17 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half by staying hot from the perimeter.

But UC-Clermont would respond. The Cougars began attacking the rim, and took their first lead at 33-32 with just over four minutes remaining in the half. Led by senior guard Ashley Keith, the Cougars headed into the locker room with a 46-44 lead.

After a high scoring first half, Rio Grande head coach David Smalley was frustrated with his team’s defensive performance.

“We really couldn’t guard them that well in man-to-man defense early, which was frustrating,” Smalley said. “We ended up having to switch to playing zone and doing a lot of trapping and pressing. But once we did that the complexion of the game really changed.”

Rio came out determined to turn just its fourth halftime deficit of the season into a victory.  The two teams went back and forth for the first 10 minutes of the second half, as the RedStorm’s press pushed the tempo of the game. Rio’s depth, however, allowed it to stay fresh and take a 66-64 lead with 7:30 remaining in the game.

“Our depth and the fact that we are in good shape really helped us to wear them down and have us eventually pull away,” Smalley said.

The RedStorm put together a 15-0 run late in the game to take an 83-64 lead and would go on to put the Cougars away 87-71.

Rio Grande was led in the scoring column by junior guard Brianna Thomas with 26 points and team-highs in both assists (3) and steals (4). Sophomore forward Sarah Bonar tallied 20 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, amounting to her third double-double of the season. But for the RedStorm, it all starts with the play of Thomas.

“She is our catalyst and we go as she goes,” Smalley said. “When she can get into transition, it just makes everyone around her better. She has the ability to get to the glass and she makes opponents adjust to us because of her speed and quickness.”

Senior center Stacie Lee paced UC-Clermont with a 20-point, 11-rebound performance. Senior guard Ashley Keith and freshman forward Kelsey Finn added 18 and 11 points, respectively.

The Rio Grande victory extends its winning streak to a season-high seven games. After being picked to finish last in the Mid-South Conference during the preseason, Smalley is well aware of the importance of this streak.

“To be able to extend the winning streak to seven, especially after the down year we had last year, it has taken our young team’s confidence to new levels,” he said. “To quote the hip-hop artist Drake, ‘We started from the bottom now we’re here.’”

With the non-conference portion of the schedule now completed, Rio Grande moves into 2014 ready to jump back into conference play. It will be no easy task for the RedStorm, however, as their first two conference matchups of the New Year are on the road against two top-20 foes.

The first of those is on Jan. 2 when Rio Grande travels to Williamsburg, Ky., on Jan. 2 to face the No. 20 Cumberland Patriots. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.