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Analysis: Women’s basketball non-conference schedule

Head coach Andrea Gorski talks to her team during a timeout. Photo courtesy Bradley Athletics/Josh Schwam

Coming off a 2020 season that featured their first NCAA Tournament berth in program history, the Bradley Braves women’s basketball team is eyeing yet another historic run. 

As was the case for all Bradley sports last year, spectators were not permitted inside Renaissance Coliseum to see Gabi Haack and company play. However, the upcoming non-conference schedule, released earlier today, promises some marquee matchups, including a Big Ten opponent paying a visit to Peoria. 

The non-conference schedule features 12 games split evenly between home and away. 

Let’s take a look at who head coach Andrea Gorski’s squad is set to encounter in November and December: 

McKendree, Nov. 4, 6:30 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

The Braves schedule a preseason exhibition tuneup with McKendree, a Division II opponent in the Great Lakes Valley Conference who finished 8-13 last season and are coached by Kari Kerkhoff, a former Bradley assistant coach.

 Bearcats’ redshirt senior Haley Diekhoff, a Pekin Community High School alumna, will make her return to the Peoria area, but her team will likely be just a bug on the windshield for Bradley. The Braves typically have no trouble with non-DI opponents; look for that trend to continue here. 

Wright State (2020-21 NET: 77), Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

A 66-61 victory over the Raiders in Dayton, Ohio proved to be one of the biggest wins for Gorski and the Braves last year. Wright St. ran through the Horizon League with a 15-5 conference record and upset 4-seed Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament in 2021, before falling to the MVC’s Missouri State in the second round.

This matchup will be a test for both teams about who can step up; Haack and Nyjah White paced the Braves with 16 points the last time these teams met but with the departure of White, someone else will need to step up besides Haack in this game.  

The Raiders lost Angel Baker (18.1 PPG) from last season, so they will be looking for a new force to lead their team. Expect a good game out of this one.  

Upper Iowa, Nov. 15, 6:30 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

While this game may not be as competitive against a DII squad, there’s good reason to watch this contest. 

Lydia Haack, sister of Bradley’s Gabi Haack, is a freshman on Upper Iowa, creating a sibling rivalry for the ages. In fact, there will be two sets of sisters taking the court in mid-November after Sasha Koenig joins her sister, Tatum, on the Braves this year. With Haacks and Koenigs abounding, this may be one of the more fun games to watch at Renaissance Coliseum before the calendar flips to 2022. 

Upper Iowa’s mascot happens to be the Peacocks; no word yet on if a live mascot will travel to the game. 

Wisconsin (2020-21 NET: 152), Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

It’s not often that a Big Ten opponent marches into Renaissance Coliseum, so this game should automatically be circled on calendars. Make no mistake; although the Badgers were in the lower ranks of the Big Ten last year, a win here will put the rest of the MVC on notice. 

Wisconsin is just the third Big Ten team to visit Bradley since 2010. The last time a B1G squad was welcomed to Peoria, the Braves held their own, defeating Illinois 98-92 in 2013. 

The Badgers bring back leading scorer Sydney Hilliard (15.5 PPG, 48% FG) and Julie Pospisilova (8.9 PPG) after going 5-19 in 2020-21 so look for them to take a step upwards this season. 

Northern Illinois (2020-21 NET: 134), Nov. 22, Time TBA in DeKalb, Illinois

The Braves and Huskies collide in the second half of a home-and-home series, and Bradley has the most recent upper hand. The Braves won 79-71 last year in Peoria after now-departed Lasha Petree dropped 30 points on the Dogs.

Playing host to Bradley’s first road game of the year, Northern Illinois brings back all three leading scorers from last year, including Chelby Koker (21.1 PPG). The Braves could find themselves in trouble if their defense is anything but stellar. 

Minnesota (2020-21 NET: 126), Nov. 26, Time TBA in Minneapolis, Minnesota

2010-11 marks the last time the Braves tangled with multiple Big Ten teams in one season and this will be another huge road test. 

The Golden Gophers return three players that averaged at least 11.1 points per game on a roster laden with upperclassmen. Minnesota will welcome Deja Winters, a first-team All-MEAC graduate transfer, from North Carolina A&T into the mix too 

Minnesota will be returning to the U.S. after encountering the likes of the Geno Auriemma-led UConn Huskies in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas earlier in the week. Will the Golden Gophers be riding high after encountering quality competition, or will the Braves take advantage of possible fatigue? 

The answer, on paper at least, tends to favor Minnesota, as the home team has won on each five occurrences between these two teams, a trend that Bradley will be determined to buck.

Tulsa (2020-21 NET: 189), Dec. 1, 11 a.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

Bradley will welcome former MVC member Tulsa for the annual Field Trip Day matinee. Despite the former ties to the MVC, the Braves and Golden Hurricane have never played each other before. 

Tulsa played to the tune of 5-14 last season and only three players averaged more than 7.9 points per contest. Despite losing Wyvette Mayberry (12.3 PPG), the Golden Hurricane possess much more experience than Bradley with six seniors on the team. 

Regardless, this should be a game that Bradley can win after a tough three-game stretch beforehand. 

North Dakota St. (2020-21 NET: 111), Dec. 4, Time TBA at Fargo, North Dakota 

The Braves and Bison will clash in the second leg of a delayed home-and-home. North Dakota St. fell 70-64 at Renaissance Coliseum in 2019. 

North Dakota St. was successful in the 2020-21 campaign going 15-9, but five of those losses came against two top-50 ranked teams in South Dakota and South Dakota State and another came at the hands of then-ranked No. 24 Iowa State. 

The Bison, headlined by the trio of Heaven Hamling (13.1 PPG), Emily Dietz (10 PPG) and Ryan Cobbins (10.7 PPG), promise to be yet another formidable test for the Braves.  

South Dakota (2020-21 NET: 35), Dec. 6, Time TBA at Vermillion, South Dakota

Make it back-to-back games in the Dakotas against Summit League foes for the Braves, except the Coyotes are even tougher.  

The Coyotes have the highest 2020-21 NET ranking of all the teams that Bradley will face in its non-conference slate, going 18-6 last year and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.  

When playing No. 1-ranked South Carolina in the first game of the season, South Dakota fell only by 10 points. All three leading scorers are back to wreak havoc this season, and will certainly prove to be a challenge for Bradley.

Little Rock (2020-21 NET: 185), Dec. 20, Time TBA at New Orleans, Louisiana 

The Trojans went 15-11 last year and reached the Sun Belt conference tournament semifinals. While that is nothing to sneeze at, the Braves have the firepower to win the third of four games in a row on the road. 

These two teams are similar in the way that they are young, Little Rock lost almost all of its major firepower. If Bradley can overcome a long bus ride down to Cajun territory, they should be able to chalk up a win. 

Tulane (2020-21 NET: 57), Dec. 21, Time TBA at New Orleans, Louisiana

Making good use of their trip to New Orleans, the Braves will play their second team in two days against a Tulane squad that finished 18-9 in the American Athletic Conference in 2020-21.  

The Green Wave earned a WNIT berth, knocking off Bradley’s fiercest rival Illinois State before being eliminated by Ole Miss. Fatigue will be a major factor for the Braves but a win here before the holidays will give them a truckload of momentum. 

St. Louis (2020-21 NET: 86), Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum

At long last, Bradley will return to the friendly confines of Peoria for their first game at home in 27 days. 

These two teams were close neighbors in the final NET rankings last season, with the Braves at No. 79 and the Billikens at 86th. In the first game of the home-and-home series, St. Louis downed Bradley 69-54 last year and eventually reached the WNIT Sweet 16. 

 The Billikens team is small in roster size but mighty in returning strength, as only 11 players are on the roster but three of their top four scorers are back. Of note, Bradley senior guard Chloe Rice played for St. Louis before transferring to Bradley in 2020. 

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