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OLEAN – The message was simple, clear and concise: Attack the rim.

Jim Crowley wanted to see his players get more aggressive in the offensive zone and battle, physically and mentally, for an entire game. So he and his staff “kicked their butts” in practice all week.

The hard work paid off Sunday afternoon as St. Bonaventure’s women’s basketball team found another gear in the second half and pulled away for a 66-44 win over Canisius in front of 721 at the Reilly Center.

It was the 18th straight win for the Bonnies (6-6) over a Big 4 opponent and the sixth straight season Bona has swept the local docket.

“We had a good week of practice and we kicked the crap out of them,” Crowley said. “I told them we did that on purpose. It was a tough week on them mentally with exams and we were making it tough on them physically. It’s a learning curve to play when you’re tired and fatigued. You have to have enough to get through it and I’m pleased with the last 12 to 13 minutes.”

It was a back and forth game for the first half and early in the second. Midway through the second half, the Golden Griffins held a 37-33 lead. Then the Bonnies kicked it into overdrive.

The key play came when Alaina Walker pounced on a loose ball and drove the length of the court for a layup to tie the game, 37-37, with 11:16 left to play. Then Doris Ortega made a brilliant baseline pass to CeCe Dixon, who nailed a three-pointer. Bona’s Emily Michael hit a three-pointer, and Dixon took a defensive rebound, drove the court and attacked the rim, getting a traditional three-point play.

That run sparked the Bonnies, who used their defense to make their offense flow in transition. During the final 11:36 of the game, the Bonnies outscored Canisius, 33-7.

“Starting with our defense makes our offense come easy,” said Walker, who had 15 points, three steals and seven rebounds. “We can force turnovers and get easy baskets on the fast break.”

And the Bonnies can get baskets when they attack the rim. Ortega had 15 points and nine rebounds, including going 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. The forward has improved her face-up play, but her mentality of attacking the rim is what creates opportunities not just for her, but for her teammates as well. Ortega also had three assists – displaying a touch and feel for the ball that not many forwards who play at the rim have.

Take that three-pointer from Dixon that gave Bona the lead for good.

“She made that one kick to CeCe and for her to make that play, she has to be going forward,” Crowley said.

Dixon and Ortega have played together since high school and the juniors know how to find each other and use each other’s strengths.

“That’s something that has built over the years,” said Dixon, who also had 15 points. “I know her and she knows me. It’s a vibe thing that we feed off each other but she’s a really good passer as well.”

Canisius (2-6) continues to struggle to find ways to win games this season. Ashley Wilkes gave the Bona defense all kinds of fits early in the second half as the senior forward found seams and got to the line to finish with a game-high 16.

“We were getting up and guarding early in the second half and that led to transition points and some fouls so that’s how we made a little run,” Wilkes said. “But they hit a couple of big shots and we got down on ourselves.”

Early in the game, the Griffs were able to go with the game’s ebbs and flows. But when Bona made its run midway in the second half, Canisius started to panic.

“My thing is win or lose, we have to fight and we lost our fight because we were so concerned about the outcome,” Canisius coach Terry Zeh said. “It can’t come from me. It has to come from inside each and every one of them. They have to have fight in them, and right now, we’re a group that’s young emotionally.”

The Bonnies continue their homestand on Tuesday when they host Kent State at 7 p.m.

The Griffs travel to California for the Beach Classic, taking on host Long Beach State on Thursday, then playing either Albany or Sam Houston on Friday.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com