Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – While most of us were celebrating the holidays with friends and family, the St. Thomas basketball team spent most days in its gym staying fresh despite a layoff in games.
It happens every year: Play a slew of games early, get about two weeks off from game action for final exams and the holidays and then get back into the gut of your conference schedule. In the case of the Tommies, they ended final exams with a tough test against UW-Steven’s Point, at the time the No. 5-ranked team in the nation.
St. Thomas (10-0, 5-0) made six straight free throws late in the game to prevail with a 68-63 win in a game that will have NCAA playoff implications in March, assuming both teams get there.
“They were very much what we expected, and a game like that simulates what you hope to be playing like in the postseason,” said St. Thomas coach John Tauer. “Every possession means a lot, and our guys did a nice job of being locked in for 40 minutes.”
St. Thomas returned to MIAC action on Wednesday, holding off Carleton for a 78-69 victory in a game were reserve Zach Riedeman led the Tommies with 16 points. Of those 16, 12 came in the second half.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Tommies as they host the only other unbeaten team in the MIAC on Saturday. St. Thomas hosts Augsburg (7-0, 4-0) with the winner taking early sole possession of the conference lead.
“They’re good. They’re well-balanced and they have a good inside game with a couple of really nice guards,” Tauer said. “They’ve done a lot of good things so far. They know their identity and play to that.”
Augsburg, which is led by Dan Korbaum’s 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, thrives with an up-tempo style of play. The Auggies have ramped up their team defense a bit this season, allowing on average about 64 points per game.
It’s the start of a busy stretch for the Tommies, who will play seven games over the course of 15 days starting with Saturday’s tilt. St. Thomas will also travel to Bethel next Monday and host Gustavus and St. John’s next week. All are squads that will look to be in the conference title race when late February comes around.
St. Thomas has the luxury that three of its next four games will be on its home court.
“It’s big but we know it will flip around,” Tauer said of the upcoming home stretch. “Six of our first eight games were on the road this year and we got through that stretch, so it certainly gives you confidence. When you have seven games in 15 days, you don’t really blink but that’s the grind of the MIAC.”
If you think a perfect 10-0 record has the Tommies feeling pressure, Tauer says otherwise. He has St. Thomas focused solely on getting better every day and the rest will take care of itself. The No. 3 national ranking will have every team playing its best against the Tommies, but that’s also the nature of MIAC play.
“It comes with the territory. We’ve won the last seven conference titles but we have a desire to be excellent every day and we respect the other teams in the MIAC,” Tauer said. “The guys know they’ll get the other team’s best shot and they relish that. Ten games isn’t any sort of streak, we just focus on our next game and that’s it.”
St. Thomas and Augsburg tip off at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center.