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Short-handed Miami women still finding success

The injury bug keeps biting Miami University’s women’s basketball team, and the RedHawks don’t care.

MU, picked to win the Mid-American Conference East Division, is playing some of its best ball of the season as MAC play begins Thursday night at Ball State.

“We’re MAC ready,” Miami coach Maria Fantanarosa said. “We’re not healthy, but we’ve continued to move forward and gain a lot of confidence in the last two weeks.”

The RedHawks are 8-5 and have won three of their four games over Christmas break. Their biggest win came last Saturday at Duquesne (54-49).

Starters Erica Almady (knee), a junior forward, and Hannah Robertson (ankle), a junior guard, didn’t play against the Dukes and likely will be out at least another week.

“I don’t know if we’ve played any game with our top eight healthy,” Fantanarosa said. “We’ve been able to play this chess game that we’re playing right now and put different people in positions to be able to do what they do.

“Duquesne was a significant win. It was the next step of, ‘OK. We can beat a good program, and we can do it on the road without two starters.’ ”

Guard Courtney Osborn (17.8) and forward Kirsten Olowinski (11.3) are the top scorers and the squad’s only seniors. Olowinski is also averaging 10.1 rebounds per game.

“Kirsten is always going to be in the spotlight,” Fantanarosa said. “But she’s elevated her game just a little bit more on both ends to make other people look good.”

Fantanarosa said redshirt junior forward Kristin Judson (5.2 ppg, 52.6 field-goal percentage) and sophomore guard Courtney Larson are two of the players that have stepped up early in the season.

Kelsey Simon is another. The 6-foot-2 junior center tallied a career-high 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, grabbed seven boards and blocked three shots against Duquesne.

“I think I did step up to the plate, but I definitely have to credit my teammates for setting me up in that position,” said Simon, who’s averaging 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest. “My role is to spark the team, give them some energy, and definitely contribute on defense.”

MU has improved defensively while becoming more comfortable with the fast-paced offense Fantanarosa installed this season. The 15th-year coach said turnovers (20.0 average) and free-throw shooting (68.7 percent) are areas of concern heading into the MAC.

“We like to keep the tempo going,” Simon said. “That’s probably one of my favorite parts of this new offense. It’s hard to guard if we’re pushing the ball in transition.”

The RedHawks’ first four conference opponents (BSU, Western Michigan, Ohio, Eastern Michigan) currently have a combined record of 14-37. A huge game at Bowling Green looms Jan. 24.

“With the things we can control,” Fantanarosa said, “we’re where we need to be right now.”

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