by Joel Nelson
ALTOONA, Pa. – The Penn State Altoona women's basketball team defeated Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference rival Penn State Behrend 79-63 for their seventh win in their past eight contests on Saturday afternoon in Adler Arena.
Penn State Altoona (10-8, 8-4 AMCC) displayed a good balance of aggressive defense and opportunistic offense in the win.
"We spent the previous two days working on our defense, and it showed today. We were able to force turnovers and/or get tips or deflections. I'm very proud of all the buy-in and commitment from all of them," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Our attack on the defensive end created some really nice offensive opportunities. In the beginning, we were altering our bodies to avoid contact, which led to missed layups or short-range shorts. Once we began finishing strong, we either finished the shot or got to the charity line."
Penn State Altoona had a steady scoring spree from starters Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), and Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel). Christine led all scorers with 23 points, while Cannistraci finished with 22 and Burk with 19. The three of them combined for 64 of the team's 79 points on a combined 25-of-42 shooting performance.
With 11 rebounds, Cannistraci finished off her ninth double-double of the season. She has scored 10 or more points in every game of the season, including 13 or more in the past 13 contests. Cannistraci also dished out four assists and blocked three shots.
Christine got four rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Burk got five assists, three rebounds, a block, and also tied her season-high in steals with four. Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) got eight points, six rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) finished with seven points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
"I enjoyed the aggressiveness on the offensive end. Our dribble penetration led to a lot of great scoring opportunities," said Wilt. "You can clearly see our success in the stat sheet, but there were so many little things that don't end up on the stat sheet that ultimately led to the win: hustle, unselfish play, communication, and support. It was a great team win today."
Stevens got Penn State Altoona rolling in the first quarter with a three-pointer 12 seconds in, before Christine extended the lead to 5-0 with a fastbreak layup at 8:26. Penn State Altoona held Behrend to just two field goals in the final 5:09 of the first period. Christine exploded with nine points in the quarter to boost her team to a 24-13 lead heading into the second period.
Penn State Behrend did some damage, though, and ended the second quarter on a 10-2 run to cut Penn State Altoona's lead to 37-31 by halftime.
Christine, Cannistraci, Stevens, and Burk helped push Penn State Altoona to a 12-4 run to begin the third quarter, where they led 49-35 with 5:53 left to go. Burk, Strittmatter, and Cannistraci would also help power a 10-2 run in the final 4:50 to go up comfortably in the fourth quarter, 59-42.
Behrend fought hard and ended the game on a 7-0 run, but Penn State Altoona's solid first three quarters were more than enough to get the 79-63 win. Penn State Altoona held the lead through the entire game.
Penn State Behrend (6-13, 4-8 AMCC) got 12-point performances each from starters Kara Haslett and Ashley Seamon, as well as Kourtney Beamesderfer off the bench.
Penn State Altoona is now in third place of the AMCC playoff race at 8-4, trailing Hilbert College and La Roche College, who are tied for the AMCC lead with 10-2 conference records.
Coach Wilt's squad will have a big road trip ahead of them, beginning with conference foe Pitt-Greensburg on Wednesday, January 30. They begin February with a road trip to Buffalo, N.Y., taking on Hilbert on Saturday, February 2 and Medaille College on Sunday, February 3.
After that, Penn State Altoona returns home on Saturday, February 9 against AMCC opponent D'Youville College.