IUP falls to Cal U after first-half stumble: Crimson Hawks score just 15 first half points in 62-56 loss

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team was unable to overcome a poor first-half showing on the road against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rival California University of Pennsylvania Wednesday.

IUP fell to the Vulcans 62-56 and had their winning streak snapped at four games.

The Crimson Hawks fell behind early in the first half, which began by a spot-up 3-point shot from Cal U forward Irina Kukolj.

The Vulcans opened the contest with a 12-4 lead less than four minutes into the first half. Their early advantage was partially due to the 3-point shot, which Cal U went 4-of-5 of in the early stages.

IUP responded to Kukolj’s three with a jumper from Ashley Stoner (junior, English), but Kukolj answered back with another long ball for three.

The Crimson Hawks’ shooting was cold throughout the first half as IUP tried to tie the contest before heading into half time, but the closest the Crimson Hawks would go was within six points.

Though IUP shot the ball poorly percentage wise, Cal U managed to score only 25 points before the half ended. IUP went into the locker rooms down 25-15.

Crimson Hawks head coach Tom McConnell told his team at halftime to keep up the way the team was defending the Vulcans.

“I told them we will find ways to score the basketball in the second half,” McConnell said. “You can’t come out with a 20 minutes like that. In the second half we started to move the basketball more.”

IUP had work to do in the second half, as Cal U maintained a 10-point advantage, but the Crimson Hawks stepped up their game offensively, igniting the comeback attempt.

A seven-point run in the early stages was capped off by a jumper from Leslie Stapleton (junior, biology/pre-med).

However, in the second half, it was Talen Watson (senior, sports administration) that carried the team offensively.

Watson, who has seen time at the point guard position, converted difficult shots in the second half, which brought the Crimson Hawk shooting percentage up.

McConnell said feeding Watson the basketball was a part of the Crimson Hawks’ game plan.

“That was our plan, to get her to drive the basketball and get to the rim,” McConnell said. “She’s a warrior. She played very hard. I thought she did some good things for us.”

For every Crimson Hawk bucket, the Vulcans were quick to answer. Cal U stars Emma Mahady and Kaitlynn Fratz helped lead the Vulcan charge in the second half.

Cal U and IUP exchanged baskets as the Vulcans kept extending their hold over the Crimson Hawks until a jumper in the paint from Zhane Brooks (sophomore, chemistry) tied the game at 36-36, the first tied score since the teams were tied at zero.

Brooks converted a layup shortly after, but Cal U regained their lead minutes later as the game continued to go back-and-forth. IUP made it a two-point contest in the latter stages of the final stanza thanks to a Stapleton jumper.

However, California clamped down defensively and forced the Crimson Hawks into questionable shots from beyond the arc.

The game came down to free throws and Cal U was nearly perfect from the charity stripe.

The Vulcans converted their final four free throw attempts and put the Crimson Hawks away – sweeping the season series in the process.

McConnell said he thought his team played well enough defensively to win the game.

“I thought we had a good game plan,” McConnell said. “They started running isolation plays for their guards, and they were able to get to the rim or get fouled, and that got them back in the lead.”

Cal U forced 21 turnovers from IUP and limited the best 3-point shooting team in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference to 2-of-8 from 3-point range.

Marita Mathe (junior, Safety Sciences) knocked down the only two 3-pointers in the game for IUP.

The next opponent on the slate for the Crimson Hawks is PSAC power Gannon University, who defeated the Crimson Hawks earlier in the season.

Tipoff against Gannon is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.