Looking to win their first game in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, the Bradley women’s basketball team missed out on a great opportunity to do so against a struggling Valparaiso team, falling 78-71.
It was the Sunday battle of Braves sophomore guard Caroline Waite and Beacons guard Olivia Brown as both led their teams in what can only be described as an all out shoot-out. Brown led the Beacons with 24 points and seven rebounds, while Waite rebounded from a scoreless game with 23 points and added a trio of rebounds and assists.
The Braves had one of their best showings against the Beacons, as they showed confidence shooting the ball, registering the most points scored in a conference matchup in the Popovec-Goss era.
“We scored a lot as a team, that was not the issue today,” Braves junior guard Ruba Abo Hashesh said. “It was the small details and knowing who can hurt us and grabbing those offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.”
Sophomore forward Callie Ziebell, a revelation as of late for Bradley, notched a double- double off the bench as she recorded 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Alex Rouse put up 17 points and five rebounds, while Abo Hashesh ended the game with seven points, two rebounds, and three assists.
While both teams got off to a hot start, two successive shots from beyond the arc by Waite cemented a four point lead just before the media timeout. The Braves shot 57 percent from the field and 75 percent from beyond the arc, while the Beacons’ 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc in the first quarter wasn’t enough to stop a 19-18 Braves lead heading into the second frame.
Lead changes were the theme of the first half as there were 13 in the early going. While Valpo dominated in the paint early on, the Braves took advantage of the Beacons’ low success rate in rebounds, the lowest in the conference.
“We let their best shooter get hot and she got hot early,” Bradley head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said about Brown. “But we also keyed in offensively, being aggressive and getting to the rim.”
Both teams struggled to shoot the ball in the second quarter as they both put up their lowest numbers in this frame. With three minutes to go, Bradley had tied the game with a Waite jumper in the paint. The tie was short lived as 20 seconds later, Valpo reclaimed the lead with a layup and with a minute to go had watched their lead grow by three.
However, another Waite 3-pointer cut the Beacon advantage to 35-32 just before the break.
“We had to find ways to get stops,” Popovec-Goss said. “I challenged them defensively, we lost some key players and let them get loose.”
After the break, Bradley never really recovered the lead as it seemed that every time they got close, Valpo scored a couple more to keep the Braves chasing. The closest Bradley got to tying the game was with a Abo Hashesh shot from beyond the arc that made it 41-40 Valparaiso with 8:06 left in the third quarter.
“I was hyped,” Abo Hashesh said. “It’s always fun to see the ball going in and it gives us more energy and more spirit.”
The Beacons started the final frame with a 59-53 advantage, and another chance for the Braves to dissolve another six point deficit. Points were traded during the first four minutes of the quarter with the Beacons taking advantage of the Braves’ poor defending, gaining a 10 point lead.
Bradley countered with a five point run, bringing the score to 68-61.
“We felt really confident and got easy buckets,” Popovec-Goss said. “But then on defense, we were able to get stops, but weren’t able to get rebounds and we put them at the free-throw line, losing three possessions that we could have had.”
Waite made it a four point game with a driving layup and 1:34 to go. Rebounds and successful free throws sunk the Braves in the end and the hope of their first conference win was snuffed.
“As we head into the second half of the season we’re going to put together some consistent efforts and sneak away with some wins cause these kids are fighting their tails off,” Popovec-Goss said.
On Friday, Bradley traveled to Chicago to face Illinois-Chicago, dropping the road game 52-38. Waite was denied points in the Windy City as she left the Credit Union 1 Arena scoreless, her second game this season where she was unfortunately not able to leave a mark on the final score. Abo Hahesh led the Braves with 10 points, two rebounds, and two assists.
Bradley was finding it difficult to score in the opening frame, while half of what Illinois-Chicago was shooting was going in. With a field goal percentage of 23 percent to the Flames 55 percent, similar stories could be told from beyond the arc for both teams.
Bradley Junior forward Daija Powell recorded very similar stats to her last performance against the Sycamores, once again claiming eight points and six rebounds
“We struggled in the first half offensively, but I was proud of their second half because we responded really well,” Popovec-Goss. “We attacked, we got to the free throw line, and we started playing with a lot more aggression.”
After multiple missed attempts on both sides of the court, Flames guard Sara Zabrecky broke the deadlock with a good jumper and Jaida McCloud, a former star in Peoria at Richwoods High School, doubled the advantage in the paint with 7:55 to go.
Bradley junior guard Alex Rouse, along withPowell brought the Braves closest to tying the game after almost four minutes of play. The Flames responded with a layup and two 3-pointers to put nine points between them with a minute to go in the quarter.
Things would not get any better for the Braves, as they had their worst shooting display of the season and only put two points on the board in the second quarter. However, the Flames weren’t able to shoot much better, going 13-37 from the field in the first half but still went into halftime up 26-9.
Like the flip of a switch, the Braves’ fortunes similarly flipped and Bradley had their best frame of the night while UIC had their worst, and an 11-point run brought the Braves within 13.
In the final frame, the Braves came out with more desire than the Flames, as they went on a five point run for the first three minutes that started from a Rouse jumper. The Flames responded with a run of their own, a 10-point run in the next three minutes that sunk the Braves even further.
With two minutes to go, Bradley had one more multi-point run left in them as they were able to lessen the damage to 52-38, running out of time to lessen the 14-point difference.
The Braves continue their road trip as they head to Normal to meet Illinois State in their second match-up of the season. Tip off is at 6:30pm.