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Belles Clip Cardinals

Bella Dugas dribbles the ball as a teammate sets a screen.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Saint Mary's basketball team held off North Central for a 69-63 victory at Angela Athletic & Wellness Complex in the Belles' home opener on Tuesday night.
Giavanna Paradiso was a force to be reckoned with throughout much of the game, but the junior was particularly proficient in the first half of play. Paradiso put the first eight points on the scoreboard for the Belles for a quick 8-3 Saint Mary's lead. Kelsie Bies sunk a three-pointer from the top of the key, and Paradiso broke a lengthy scoring drought by both teams with back-to-back buckets almost three full minutes later as the Belles held a 15-11 advantage with two minutes remaining in the opening period. The Cardinals responded with a pair of free throws, but Hannah Cavanaugh drained a three-pointer of her own to give Saint Mary's an 18-13 lead at the first period break.
The Belles came out strong in the second stanza as Saint Mary's used a 12-2 run to build a 30-15 lead with 4:16 still remaining on the clock. Sophie Koeppl, Jade Mosier, and Paradiso all connected on buckets during that run which gave Saint Mary's the largest lead of the entire contest. The Cardinals got right back in the mix, however, with a 15-3 run of their own over the final four minutes of the quarter to make it a 33-30 game at halftime.
Bella Dugas gave the Belles an infusion of momentum to start the third period. The sophomore connected on a put-back layup to open play before connecting from beyond the arc right in front of the Saint Mary's bench for a three-pointer to give the Belles a 38-30 edge. After North Central came back with four points, a six-point spurt by Saint Mary's gave the home side another double-digit advantage at 44-34 with under four minutes remaining. The Cardinals closed out another quarter with a strong push as North Central cut the deficit to a single point at 46-45 going into the final ten minutes of play.
North Central then took their first lead of the game with a quick layup to start the fourth quarter. That lead, however, was short-lived as Maddie Rzepka sunk a three-pointer for the Belles on the next possession. The Cardinals knotted the score with a pair of free throws, but Saint Mary's continued to find an answer on their home hardwood. Kelsie Bies hit her second three-pointer of the game, and Giavanna Paradiso connected from close range to put the Belles ahead 54-49. North Central countered with a three-pointer, but Sophie Koeppl connected from NBA range to reignite the Belles and put the home side up 57-52 with 6:48 on the clock. Several offensive rebounds two possessions later for the Belles resulted in a layup by Dugas for a seven-point lead. One more late push by North Central saw the Cardinals pull within two points at 63-61 late in the quarter, but the Belles held the visitors to one more field goal over the final two-minutes of play as Saint Mary's continued to dominate the glass and reap the benefits of trips to the charity stripe. Kelsie Bies and Bella Dugas combined to give the Belles a 66-61 lead with 12 seconds remaining after connecting on free throws, and Devan Buda iced the game for Saint Mary's with three free throws and an offensive rebound in the final four seconds of play as the Belles prevailed 69-63.
Saint Mary's outscored North Central by a 24-11 margin on second-chance points as the Belles out-rebounded the Cardinals 46-24 overall with a 17-7 edge in offensive boards.
Giavanna Paradiso matched her career-high point total with 28 on the night as the junior went a perfect 9-of-9 from the charity stripe while adding eight rebounds. Bella Dugas pulled down a career-high 16 rebounds, blocked a career-best three shots, and added 10 points for the third double-double of her career. Sophie Koeppl added nine points, and Kelsie Bies chipped in eight points.
It marks the first win for the Belles over North Central since a 75-56 victory in the championship contest of the Holiday Inn Select Tip-Off Tournament at North Central in the 2010-11 season.
The Belles (2-0) travel to Holland, Michigan for the Hope College Tip Off Classic on Friday and Saturday. Saint Mary's opens play on Friday against Hanover at 5:30 p.m.