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Braves continue to drop conference matchups heading into homestand

Ruba Abo Hashesh takes on a defender. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

After Bradley women’s basketball defeated Evansville on Feb. 3 to end their four-game losing streak, the Braves (6-17, 2-10 MVC) looked to build on their win when they faced Drake and Northern Iowa.

This trip was not favorable to the Braves.

Strong Bulldogs start dooms Braves

Bradley dropped their first game to the MVC-leading Drake Bulldogs 60-71. Freshman Halli Poock contributed a team-high 17 points while senior Isis Fitch recorded 12 points and eight rebounds.

This was yet another solid showing by Fitch, who leads the team in rebounds and is fourth in points per game this season. Head coach Kate Popovec-Goss believes that it’s the intangibles that Fitch possesses that allow her to be successful.

“I am super pleased with Isis’s effort,” Popovec-Goss said. “I think she just wants to win. She has had to do a lot for us in the past few years, but she never falters. Her energy, her effort is the same every day. She has taken on a leadership role as a captain and she just wants to win.”

“One thing about Isis is her mentality on the team and I think for her that has allowed her to be very successful in her role,” Popovec-Goss added.

The game started to get ugly early on as the Bulldogs opened the game on an 11-0 run. A Poock 3-pointer with 5:27 left to go in the first quarter gave Bradley their first points of the game.

Allowing big runs early in games is something that the Braves have struggled with all season, and they know they need to cut down on those to have better chances moving forward.

“I feel like if we can keep those runs short, then we can stay in the game,” Fitch said. “Especially the first quarters because I feel like the first quarter when we let a team get up by too many that we just can’t recover and it is just too hard.”

The Braves contained the initial deficit well and ended the first quarter trailing the Bulldogs 12-20.

The second quarter was the strongest for the Braves, winning the scoring 17-15. This came in part because of the defensive pressure generated by the Braves, who made the Bulldogs shoot 35% from the field in the frame.

The defensive intensity turned into offensive momentum and allowed Bradley to hang with Drake. This is something that has eluded the Braves all season.

“For us, the biggest thing that sometimes we struggle with is when we struggle on the offensive end, we lose our intensity on the defensive end,” Popovec-Goss said. “That was certainly not the case with Drake and I think that is why we were able to get back in the game.”

“That is a huge win for our kids even though we offensively were struggling a little bit in that first quarter, they were still finding ways to lock in defensively and that is why we were able to come in that second quarter and win,” Popovec-Goss added.

The Braves headed into halftime trailing 29-35.

The third quarter saw a very even 10 minutes of action. Drake began the quarter with a 6-0 run, but Bradley equalized that run towards the end of the quarter. At the end of three quarters, it was a single-digit ball game in favor of the Bulldogs 53-44.

The fourth quarter proved to be more of the same. The Braves were neck-and-neck with the Bulldogs in terms of scoring, with Drake having a slight 18-16 advantage. There were points in the frame that the Braves cut the Bulldog lead to two possessions, but Drake pulled away and earned yet another Valley win.

This game proved that if Bradley can hang with the big dogs like Drake in the Valley, they can compete with anybody in the conference.

“We competed, it went well and we just came up a little short at the end,” Fitch said. “I feel like if we play like that we can compete with anybody in the league. It is just keeping that same consistency is what we have to focus on.”

Braves struggle against sharp-shooting Panthers

The Braves finished their trip to Iowa on the losing end, falling to the Panthers 61-96. Poock once again took team-high honors with 17 points on the night along with Fitch and junior Alex Rouse, who both tallied 10 points.

The second game of a week has not been favorable to the Braves all season and it did not change against UNI on Saturday. Popovec-Goss knows her team needs to be better prepared for those matchups.

“We are executing and we are locked in the first matchups of the week, [but] we are not doing that on the second matchups of the week,” Popovec-Goss said.

This was shown in the first quarter when UNI came out of the gates strong on an 8-0 run. The Panthers continued to blaze through the first quarter offensively and carried a 31-19 lead into the second frame.

The Braves’ defense had a hard time defending the offensive power that UNI possesses.

“I feel like everytime we play them, they just [make their shots],” Fitch said. “They were 100% from the three-point line [early in the first quarter], that is pretty hard to stop at one point. They hit shots, they have an interior presence.”

“They are big, they are smart, they are tough, I think that early on we were just letting them score in transition,” Popovec-Goss said. “They like to play physically and we allowed them to do that really early.”

The second quarter was better for Bradley, as they held UNI to fewer points and only lost the quarter by five. That being said, the Braves still had a steep hill to climb heading into halftime down 36-53.

That hill only got steeper in the third quarter as the Braves, although scoring the first two shots in the frame, continued to struggle on the defensive end. At the end of three quarters, Bradley trailed UNI 52-78.

In the fourth quarter, the Braves simply could not overcome the deficit. Bradley scored nine points in the quarter compared to UNI’s 18. The Panthers extended their lead and ultimately finished off the Braves convincingly 96-61.

Although the Braves dropped both of the games over the weekend, the growth is being noticed by Popovec-Goss and she is happy with where her team is right now heading back home.

“Our kids have stayed positive even though the season has been full of adversity so I love where we are at now,” Popovec-Goss added. “It is about finding ways to win those close games that we have put ourselves in position to compete in and just being better in the second game of the week.”

The Braves host the Valparaiso Beacons on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. to kick off their four-game homestand.

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