BLOOMINGTON — A theme from two sources after Illinois Wesleyan's 108-54 women's basketball victory over North Central on Wednesday was that IWU's success stems more from teamwork than talent.
North Central coach Michelle Roof applauded Wesleyan's knack for playing as a unit, a product of veterans taking newcomers under wing.
That assessment was corroborated by IWU freshman Samantha Munroe, who had just scored a season-high 21 points to become the seventh Titan to earn game-high scoring honors this season.
"Coming in your freshman year with teammates like Maddie Merritt and Molly McGraw, having them include us and just welcoming us into this awesome, successful environment is just so much fun," Munroe said. "It's awesome to be here."
The offshoot of such team chemistry has been a 14-game winning streak as No. 17 nationally ranked Wesleyan (16-2, 9-0) prepares to host North Park (8-10, 3-6) in a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin contest at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The event doubles as the 11th annual Pink Zone Game to raise money and awareness for the local Community Cancer Center.
Titan coach Mia Smith looks for athleticism in recruits, but also hunts for personalities that can jell.
"It's absolutely everything," she said of a recruit's character. "When I am watching a kid, I'm watching their mannerisms, how they interact with their teammates, their coaches, even how they interact with their parents after the game. It's all those things.
"I don't creep onto Facebook (to evaluate players). I think that's too personal. There have been a lot of kids that we will pass on because we'll see something in their play or in their interaction with officials, their teammates or the opponents that doesn't sit well with us."
The power of teamwork is evident in IWU's passing, which has produced a league-leading 19.7 assists per game as part of a league-leading 30.9 baskets per game. The Titans' 84.8 scoring average ranks fifth nationally.
Last year's 18-10 campaign showed Smith more movement was needed so she installed the Princeton offense, which emphasizes constant motion, passing, picks and backdoor cuts.
"At the beginning of the season, we really broke down the movements within that offense and how to read the defense," Smith said. "Because we have smart players, they have picked it up very quickly."
IWU shoots .456 from the field, which isn't far off the school record pace of .462 set in 1995-96.
Raven Hughes, a freshman from University High, is shooting a CCIW-leading .737 in league games and .681 overall. (The IWU record is .629 by Stacey Arlis.)
"Anytime Raven is on the floor, I think something good is going to happen," Smith said. "Raven is just one of those players who has been around basketball all her life. She's been well coached.
"She's got a mindset for making great decisions. When you make great decisions about the shots you are taking or not taking, that will always increase your percentages."
Hughes, who averages 8.7 points, uses some unorthodox moves to clear space for a shot featuring a high release that avoids defensive hands.
IWU's scoring leaders are Merritt (13.0) and McGraw (12.8). Gabby Sandoval and Shaylee Sloan pace North Park at 7.9 apiece.
The Vikings' six-game losing streak includes an 83-53 setback against IWU on Jan. 13. In that game, Smith didn't like her team's 39.2 percent shooting and porous trapping.
A cancer survivor, Smith is gratified so many high schools and colleges conduct Pink Games.
"What a wonderful tribute to all survivors," she said. "What a wonderful aspect of human kindness and love in trying to find a cure for cancer. I think we are really, really close (to a cure). We want to end cancer of all kinds.
"Our Bloomington-Normal community has to be one of the best supporters of a Pink Zone Game ever."