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Dan Weber: Thomas More Beats Top-Ranked Campbellsville

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

The weather outside may have been frightful, as the song goes. As was the ability of the Thomas More women's basketball team to attack the aggressive zone thrown at them all night by the -- until Thursday night -- nationally No. 1 NAIA Campbellsville Tigers.

But no, it wasn't those two banners commemorating Thomas More's 33-0 NCAA championship teams in 2016 and 2019. "I'm not sure kids pay attention to that," Campbellsville Coach Ginger High Colvin said in analyzing TMU's 72-56 win over her now 15-1 Tigers.

What do they pay attention to? "That guy," Colvin said, gesturing at Jeff Hans, now in his 11th season at TMU. "They pay attention to Coach Hans. His experience is the difference."

Junior guard Zoie Barth agreed. The Highlands product, a junior guard who knocked down five of six from the field including four of five from three-point range, said it as succinctly as it can be said.

A "winner," she called her coach. "When the leader of your program is a winner . . . ," she said, of course you listen to him.  That is, if you consider a 274-24 record in 11 seasons winning.

No wonder as the No. 3 Saints warmed up for this one, it looked like they were getting ready for practice. Not a bit tight. Lots of smiles on their faces. This was going to be fun.

Although not perfect from the start as the Saints had to hit a breakaway at the buzzer to tie it at 29 going into halftime. Coming out from halftime was a far different story.

Campbellsville may have bussed up Wednesday to beat the weather downstate and help prepare them for Thomas More. But no way that was happening after intermission.

Knocking down corner threes and getting the ball into the post for baseline drive dishes, the TMU lead reached 10, then 13, 53-40, by the end of the third period on a 24-11 Saints run. But it wasn't just on offense that TMU excelled.

The Saints blocked eight shots -- five by 6-foot-1 grad student Alexah Chrisman -- and pretty much took the Tigers out of it as the lead ballooned to 20, 63-43, with six minutes left. On the night, they limited Campbellsville to 21 of 66 (31.8 percent) from the field including six of 27 (22.2 percent) from behind the three-point arc.

"Just do what you're supposed to do," Hans said he told them at halftime. And once in the second half after a seven-point Campbellsville leading to a timeout, a frustrated Hans asked the TMU radio guy "to go talk to 'em." He didn't want to.

"Throw it to somebody in a blue jersey," was another not-so-encouraging word, he said, admitting that maybe he does get on their nerves at times. But if he does, they don't seem to mind. 

And no way does this deep TMU team have the ability to call off the dogs. The Saints played 11 players in the first half and it wasn't noticeable whether the starters were in -- or their backups.

"This is by far the deepest team we've had in my 11 years at Thomas More," Hans said.

"To see our bench players step up, one through 11," Barth said, well, you just know "they're going to step up."

Ten of the 11 Saints scored with 10 of the 11 playing at least 17 minutes and a pair of backups -- Kelly Brenner with 12 and Maggie Jones with 10 -- reaching double figures. They joined Barth, with 16, and Chrisman, with 13, in double digits.

For the night, TMU hit on 26 of 52 for 50 percent from the field including nine of 21 (42.9 percent) from behind the arc. And to top things off, TMU cashed in on 11 of 12 from the free throw line.

That was the difference, Colvin said. Sure they can throw it over the top going corner to corner, or get it inside when they spread you out, but the thing that TMU does that really hurts you, Colvin said, is this: "They shoot the ball so well."

Not only do they get the ball where it's hard to guard them, but when they do, they knock the shot down.

"But there'll be another day," Colvin said, echoing Hans after the game.

So does this make you No. 1, he was asked.

The look of horror at even hearing those words defines Hans' approach. Sure, they may be ahead now at 7-0 in the Horizon League to Campbellsville's 7-1 but that's not the point.

"No," Hans said. "No way. We have Georgetown Saturday there" of TMU's next opponent named Tigers. "It's the Mid-South."

And you better be ready to play against the No. 4 team in the league on the road. That's why he set up a schedule that has had TMU winning four games by five or fewer points thus far.

It gets you ready for games like this one. Against the nation's no-longer No. 1 team.

--Dan Weber

Photo: Coach Jeff Hans looks on as the Saints roll to victory (Dan Weber/RCN)