They never said it would be easy, but despite the challenges of rebuilding a team from the ground up, Bradley women’s basketball still holds onto some things that they can carry over to next season.
“I think that shows you where our team is at mentally as we head into April,” Braves’ head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said. “And I said today: ‘Guys, we have a chance, these next couple of days are our last impression and what do we want people to know about Bradley?’ and I think that they left a really strong impression of that we’re fighters and we’ve gotten better and there’s no quitting in our team.”
The Braves’ season came to an end at the MVC Conference Tournament tournament in Moline, Illinois, falling 68-51 against Missouri State. After gaining their first conference win of the Popovec-Goss era and snapping a 22-game losing streak, the Braves were outrebounded by one of the best in the nation.
Bradley struggled early on as Missouri State’s size and strength made it hard for the Braves to rebound and get good looks offensively. Sophomore guard Alex Rouse was the most active player in the first quarter and made the first field goal of the day for the Braves, but it wasn’t until over halfway through the quarter. The Braves missed their first five shots and found themselves in a 10-2 deficit early.
“We played really hard, but early on our shots weren’t going in,” sophomore guard Caroline Waite said. “But after that, the game started opening up.”
With two minutes left in the first quarter and an 11-point deficit, junior guard Ruba Abo Hashesh took the ball from beyond the arc and sunk it for her first points of the game. However, the Bears were quick to respond as they put up seven points to end the quarter with an advantage of 22-11.
“I think some of the offensive rebounds we gave up, I’m willing to live with just because they are going to outmatch us a little bit physically,” Popovec-Goss said. “It had to really be a team rebounding effort and I think at times we looked really good and at times we struggled and Missouri State is the type of team that if you struggle, they’re gonna capitalize off of it.”
The Braves got the second quarter started with another triple from Abo Hashesh, stunning the Bears who were only able to muster one free throw in the first three minutes of the quarter.
After two second chance layups were made by the Bears, Popovec-Goss called the Braves in with 5:14 to go and down by 27-16. The Bears continued to capitalize with their uptempo play and scoring in the paint as their lead swelled to 36-20.
Coming out of the break, the Braves looked a lot better defensively for the first few minutes of the second half. Waite didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on an early three, her first of the game. However, the Bears would counter with an 11-4 run to force Popovec-Goss to take another timeout with 4:21 left. As Waite started by scoring a three in the third quarter, she would also end the third quarter with another three but Bradley trailed Missouri State 56-32.
“I think we’ve got a group of people that are really committed and it’s gonna continue to take some time, but I really liked the progress that we made, especially these past few games defensively,” Popovec-Goss said.
In the final frame of the Braves season, a late surge spearheaded by Waite let them win the quarter even though they lost the game. Waite ended the game with 17 points while Abo Hashesh went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and with 13 points with three assists in her pocket. Jade Masogayo led Missouri State with 19 points, seven rebounds, and two assists to her name and the Bears came away with 14 steals.
“I think we grew a lot as a team this season,” Waite said. “We can expect a lot of hardwork in the offseason.”
Bradley will now head into the offseason with a year of learning under their belt and with a familiar squad returning, depending on what the transfer portal has in store. New recruits will surely come to reinforce the team, as the Braves say goodbye to their lone senior, forward Veronika Roberts
“She played her heart out these past five games and I’m super proud of her as our lone senior,” Popovec-Goss said. “I think she represents everything that’s right with Bradley, and I’m just really proud of what she was able to accomplish for us this year and everything that she did to help us lay the foundation.”
“You know, now we’ve got the system under our belt for a year. We’ve got to get bigger, we’ve got to get faster, we’ve got to get more physical, but I think one thing that we gained this year is knowledge of our system. And I think we’re starting to find a chemistry together which I’m really pleased with,” Popovec-Goss said.
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