The cornerstone of Saint Martin’s women’s basketball under longtime coach Tim Healy is defense.
Their opponent Wednesday to open the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament features the conference’s all-time leading scorer.
Something has to give.
Simon Fraser senior forward Erin Chambers, the GNAC’s player of the year, tops the conference in career points (1,910) and averaged a conference-best 23.1 points per game this season.
Chambers, from Mission, British Columbia (about 20 miles north of Lynden), also torched the Saints for a GNAC single-game record 41 points in a 82-75 Clan victory in Lacey on Feb. 14.
Stopping Chambers is a priority for Healy in the first-round matchup at Montana State-Billings’ Alterowitz Gymnasium at 6:30 p.m. (PST).
What makes Chambers difficult to contain is the combination of her size (6-foot-1) with her skillset, Healy said.
“She can score inside, she can score outside, off the ball, off the dribble,” Healy said. “She can pull up and shoot the jumper ... she’s just so dangerous.”
The Saints’ scoring defense the past three weeks has improved to 64.8 points per game, good for fifth in the conference after ranking first last season.
Following a 4-10 start, Healy said a turning point came on the trip to Alaska.
SMU got the split on the road, but also was forced to make a change in the starting lineup when senior guard Angela Gelhar tore an anterior cruciate ligament, ending her career.
The Saints in recent weeks have used more three-post starting lineups of Elin Johansson, Liz Mills and Megan Wiedeman.
Wiedeman is the GNAC’s rebounding and blocks leader at 9.3 and 1.9 a game, respectively, but Healy also said she’s coming around on the offensive end, too.
“Megan has always been a great defensive player and great rebounder,” Healhy said. “She’s given us a great presence on the inside.”
Still, Healy noted that despite losing twice to the Clan this season (Simon Fraser won, 83-70, in Brunaby, British Columbia, on Jan. 15), he hopes his players are finding their groove defensively, which has to be the focus in Wednesday’s game.
“If we going to compete in this game, we’ve got to play a good defensive game,” Healy said.
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473