LACEY — Defend the perimeter and force turnovers.
That was the scouting report on how to defeat the Central Washington University women’s basketball team.
It was hard to say which aspect Saint Martin’s University excelled at more Thursday night.
The Saints forced 25 turnovers while limiting the Wildcats to a surprisingly low percentage from long range as they opened Great Northwest Athletic Conference play with a solid 64-49 victory over Central Washington at Marcus Pavilion.
“That’s absolutely what we needed tonight,” SMU coach Tim Healy said when asked about his team’s defense. “For us to win, it needs to be a total team effort, and that’s exactly what we got tonight. Everyone contributed.”
Black Hills High School graduate Chelsea Haskey scored a team-high 21 points and hauled down 10 rebounds, while teammate Angela Gelhar chipped in 12 points for the Saints, who
ended a two-game skid.
SMU moved to 3-0 at home and above .500 overall (4-3) by opening conference play with a victory.
The Saints have won eight of their past nine meetings with the Wildcats and lead the all-time series 35-34.
SMU broke open the game by kicking off the second half with a 13-2 run, turning a seven-point halftime advantage into a 39-21 lead.
“We have had a difficult time starting games and halves this year,” Healy said. “The way we played at the start of the game and at the second half was key. It helped with our confidence out there, and we needed that after last week, which was tough for us.”
Five minutes into the second half, Central had almost as many turnovers (21) as points (22).
The Wildcats (3-3 overall, 0-1 GNAC) entered Thursday as one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation, hitting just under 10 per game.
Midway through the second half, however, Central was shooting 11.8 percent (2-of-17) from beyond the arc, while seeing its deficit balloon to 20 points.
Central finished 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) from 3-point range, sinking a trio of shots after SMU had built a 56-35 lead with 6:34 to play.
The Saints led, 26-19, at halftime, getting nine first-half points from Haskey and forcing Central into 18 turnovers.
The Wildcats, who turned the ball over six times in their first eight possessions, opened the game shooting an icy 15.4 percent (2-of-13) from the field.
A bucket along the baseline from Megan Wiedeman capped a 9-0 run for SMU, pushing its lead to double digits at 18-7 with 7:51 to play before halftime.
Jessica VanDyke, who finished with 16 points, provided the lone offensive punch for the Wildcats in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. Her teammates combined to connect on just two of their 15 first-half shots.
The Saints return to the court Saturday, facing No. 18 Northwest Nazarene at Marcus Pavilion.
The Crusaders own an 11-game winning streak against SMU, which last beat Northwest Nazarene on Jan. 5, 2008 (73-51). Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
SMU 78, at Simon Fraser 62: Evan Coulter scored a game-high 21 points to lead the Saints (1-5, 1-0 GNAC) past the Clan (6-2, 0-1) in Burnaby, B.C.
SMU will pay a visit to Western Washington on Saturday.