While other Bradley students were on break over winter vacation, the women’s basketball team was in the gym working, with Missouri Valley Conference play on the horizon in January.
“For us, break was about basketball,” head coach Michael Brooks said. “We were up early, we were putting shots up, we were just trying to get better and focus on our weaknesses while maximizing our strengths.”
Unfortunately, that work didn’t translate to success on paper. The Braves went 1-7 over break, with a win over Wichita State and losses to No. 24 Iowa, Northern Illinois, Saint Louis, Loyola, Southern Illinois, Evansville and Missouri State, in that order.
“I have been extremely pleased with our defense all season,” Brooks said. “We work hard on the defensive end and we have confidence. But the biggest negative right now is that we don’t put the ball in the hole. We haven’t been hitting our shots. We haven’t been as confident offensively attacking the basket.”
The Braves also lost freshman Gabby Green to a knee injury in the Northern Illinois game Dec. 21. Brooks said losing Green had a huge impact on the team.
“She was a playmaker for us,” Brooks said. “Our assist-to-turnover ratio was great with her, and since then, it has completely went the other way. She was starting and playing a lot of minutes and was another ball-handler for us.”
Last Friday, the Braves traveled on I-74 to take on conference rival Illinois State. It was a low-scoring, defensive struggle, and the Braves ended up falling short 54-49.
The game was back and forth with both teams trading leads. Going into the fourth quarter, the Braves had the edge 37-35. The Redbirds went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth to pull ahead 48-41, and Bradley was never able to recover.
“We played great defense and forced a lot of turnovers, but we couldn’t convert those turnovers into points,” Brooks said. “We need better scoring in transition. After three quarters of playing good defense, eventually that defense is gonna break if you aren’t scoring.”
The reserves were a bright spot for the Braves. Led by freshman Vanessa Markert and junior Leti Lerma, the reserves combined for 27 points and carried the Braves through stretches of the game. Markert finished with 10 points and four rebounds and Lerma finished with eight points and 12 rebounds. Both were top performers for the Braves.
“I’ve been impressed with [Markert],” Brooks said. “She wants and has a thirst for knowledge and getting better. She comes into the office, she watches film multiple times a day, and she’s really stepped up and learned what it takes to be successful at this level.”
Bradley traveled to Indiana State a couple days later on Jan. 24, and suffered another loss 59-37.
The Braves jumped out to an early 10-3 lead. After that, both teams had trouble scoring. The score was only 19-17 Sycamores at half. The Braves jumped to a 22-19 lead early in the second half, but then the Braves went cold from the field as they only scored one field goal in the next 14 minutes. Indiana State pulled out to a big lead and never looked back.
Sophomore Danielle Brewer and junior Whitney Tinjum both scored 11 points and were the leading scorers for the Braves.
The losses bring Bradley to 1-6 in conference and 5-12 overall.
The Braves have a four-game homestand starting Friday, beginning with a pair of tough MVC-matchups against Drake on Friday and Northern Iowa on Sunday. Drake is currently third in the conference standings at 5-2 in conference and 12-6 overall. Northern Iowa is leading the conference at 6-1 in conference and 11-7 overall.
“[Drake can] shoot the ball well and they attack in transition,” Brooks said. “If you let them get in rhythm, then they can kill you. So, we have to do a great job defensively of stopping the ball in transition and finding shooters. Offensively, we have to take advantage of their zone and make sure we have ball movement.”
Bradley takes on Drake Friday at 7 p.m. in Renaissance Coliseum.