Defense Comes Up Clutch, SMC’s Tayla Dalton Has Career Night in Women’s Basketball Win at LMU

Zeryhia Aokuso sinks a hook shot with less than a minute to go, and Leia Hanafan grabs a game-clinching steal. Gaels win 70–66 and climb over LMU in West Coast Conference standings.

by Tim Fitzgerald, Director of Communications, SMC Athletics | February 23, 2024

Saint Mary's Women's Basketball held on for a 70–66 win over LMU on Thursday night in Los Angeles to split the season-series with the Lions and climb over them in the standings.

The Gaels shot 68.2% from the field in the second half and made critical defensive stops late in the game to get the win. Tayla Dalton scored a career-high 27 points to lead all scorers.

Saint Mary's actually trailed most of the first half, making just three field goals in the first quarter while LMU had just five made baskets. SMC led 3–2 on a Dalton three just a few minutes into the game, tied it at 20–20 on an Ali Bamberger 3-pointer with just over six minutes to go in the second quarter, and finally led again at 26–25 with just 2:17 to go in the half on another Dalton basket.

Shortly after that, Hannah Rapp grabbed a board and started a fast break, feeding Dalton for a layup to go up 28–25 with 1:06 to go in the half, as they forced the Lions into a four-and-half-minute scoring drought. Alexis Mark hit a three to put LMU up by two with just 21 seconds left in the quarter, but Dalton hit a buzzer-beating three from the wing to put the Gaels up 31–30 at the break.

The third quarter proved quite the opposite from the first, with each team shooting well in a back-and-forth affair that made for a riveting contest. The Lions led by four most of the third, but a Bamberger offensive rebound set up Maia Jones for a corner three to break a 51–51 tie and put SMC up 54–51, and a Bamberger basket made it 56–51 Gaels going into the fourth.

A Jones 3-pointer put SMC up 64–56 with 5:21 to go, but LMU answered with a three of their own to cut it back to five. The Lions managed to tie the game at 66 on a pair of free throws with just under a minute remaining after scoring seven unanswered points.

That’s when Zeryhia Aokuso hit a clutch basket with a baby hook shot to put the Gaels back up by two with 43 seconds to go, and then hit one of two free throws to make it 69–66 with 20 seconds remaining.

SMC needed one more big defensive stop, and they got it when Leia Hanafin perfectly read a pass for a steal and then tacked on a free throw as well to make it a four-point game. She grabbed a rebound after a missed three by the Lions and was fouled, putting the game away for Saint Mary's.

Inside the Numbers

Tayla Dalton’s 27 points topped her previous career high of 22 at San Francisco on February 26, 2022. She was 9 of 15 from the floor in this game and was 3 of 4 from deep to go along with five boards and three assists.

Ali Bamberger finished with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds and six assists. Maia Jones scored in double figures again with 14 points and was 4 of 6 from downtown. Zeryhia Aokuso ended up with nine points and five assists.

Leia Hanafin's game-clinching steal has been her forte all season, as she is second in the WCC in steals and steals per game.

UP NEXT: The Gaels finish the road trip with a match against University of San Diego this Saturday, February 24. Tip off is at 2 p.m.

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