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Defensive minded Braves enter back end of conference schedule

Guard Danielle Brewer plays defense in a game against Northern Iowa. Photo by Anna Foley.
Guard Danielle Brewer plays defense in a game against Northern Iowa. Photo by Anna Foley.

Entering the second half of Missouri Valley Conference play, the Bradley women’s basketball team stands in eighth place with a 2-9 conference record and a 6-16 overall record.

The team came off a weekend split, winning against the University of Evansville but losing to Southern Illiniois University-Carbondale.

Bradley’s 66-52 win against Evansville highlighted a standout Braves defense, which was able to shut down high-scoring Aces guard Sara Dickey, who is the powerhouse of Evansville’s offense.

“We turned them over 27 times,” Brooks said. “We were very disciplined in our approach, and we played with passion. I thought we did a lot of things extremely well.”

However, the excitement about the Evansville win faded as the Braves struggled offensively in a 65-51 loss to the Salukis.

Senior Whitney Tinjum sank a free throw to cut SIU’s lead to eight at the beginning of the third quarter, but the Salukis followed that with a 10-3 run over the next three minutes.

That run virtually broke the Braves’ back, as Bradley suffered from an ice cold 32 field goal percentage in the second half and could never get back into the game.

Falling victim to a late game run isn’t new to the Braves, as the previous week’s late game runs by Drake and Northern Iowa spoiled two upset bids by Bradley.

“I’ve called timeouts, I’ve changed defenses, we’ve run different sets,” Brooks said. “When it comes down to it, we can’t lose our composure in those times.”

Sophomore forward Tamya Sims said the team can avoid long scoring droughts on the court by staying on the same page.

“When we go on droughts without scoring, it seems that everyone shuts down,” Sims said. “Once we get past that and learn how to continue to keep pushing through knowing our run is coming, I feel like we’ll be able to avoid the droughts.”

While the Braves have played top teams in the MVC closely and competitively, Brooks said losing because of late-game runs and the inability to close out games is what separates them from the top of the MVC.

“We just haven’t proven to ourselves that we can do this, and we can beat these teams,” Brooks said. “We play with them, and we hit them, and we go on our runs, but there always seems to be one run they have that we have been unable to counter.”

However, the Braves can take solace in the fact that their defense is one of the better in the MVC this season, which has come a long way from last season.

“We went from last in defense last year to third,” Brooks said. “They’re like dogs on a leash. When you come by, they bark at you, and they want to come off that leash and come get you.”

Bradley currently ranks first in the MVC in 3-point field goal defense, fourth with a +0.77 turnover margin and fourth in scoring defense.

Sims said the defensive success was something that’s been in the making since she started at Bradley her freshman year.

“When we first got here, we focused on defense and making sure our positioning was right and focusing on little things like that where we perfected our defense,” Sims said.

The Braves are on the road this weekend, facing Wichita State and Missouri State. Brooks and his team have already beaten the Shockers in Peoria, a team who Brooks said is very similar to Bradley.

“They’re playing better offensively, and they’re doing the same thing defensively,” Brooks said. “They like to play there quarters and get after you. What’s great is we do those things, too. So we get to go against some very similar things everyday in practice.”

The Braves play Wichita State at 7 p.m tonight and Missouri State at 2 p.m. Sunday.