Wrapping up the non-conference schedule, Bradley women’s basketball arrived in the Sunshine State for the FIU Hoops Showdown earlier this week. Against Stephen F. Austin (SFA) and Florida International, the Braves wound up short.
“The overarching theme of both games was turnovers,” Bradley head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said. “Against SFA we had 27 and that’s too many.”
Sophomore Caroline Waite led the Braves (3-8) against the Ladyjacks (10-2) with 13 points and four assists while also converting all seven shots from the line. Junior Isis Fitch and sophomore Alex Rouse pitched in with nine points each.
“I thought we definitely grew and got better in this tournament,” Waite said. “I think our biggest takeaway is being able to control the pace of the game and I think that is something that we do really well.”
Things were pretty even in the first quarter as neither team could get a strong foothold in the game early on. As the score was tied at 12 with two minutes remaining, Zoe Nelson and Kyla Deck propelled the Ladyjacks forward with a smooth jumper and a 3-pointer at the completion of the frame.
In the second quarter, SFA started chopping away at the Bradley defense as they registered 24 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and 66 percent from the 3-point line.
“SFA are a big and strong team, they put a lot of pressure on us and they were very erratic,” Waite said. “We just tried to stay poised and limit turnovers and take care of rebounds.”
As the Ladyjacks’ effectiveness from the field decreased after the break, the Braves improved in that department, shooting 6-13. The Bradley defense stopped all six of SFA’s 3-point attempts in the third, leaving the score at 59-35 heading into the final quarter.
Trying to diminish the damage and stay in the game, Bradley only coughed up one turnover in the fourth quarter. However, the Ladyjacks kept the steady stream of points rolling and finished the game 77-48.
“For three quarters we played really tough against them,” Popovec-Goss said. “After the game I eliminated that second quarter score from the board and put up the other three quarters and the difference was between 11 points.”
With Florida International up next, the Braves’ turnover difficulties had to diminish in preparation for a team that typically feeds off their opponents’ miscues.
“FIU is a team that forces almost 23 turnovers a game and we ended up with 18 which I would have liked to have seen that number below fifteen,” Popovec-Goss said.
In the first quarter, Bradley shot as if the hoop was covered. The Braves shot just 4-15 inside the arc and 0-7 from beyond. The Panthers led 17-9 after one.
Both sides of the Braves’ performance improved greatly in the second quarter, where they put up 23 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and only allowing 12 from the Panthers. As both teams pushed and pulled, Bradley was finally able to take hold of a 32-29 lead right before halftime after a Fitch layup.
“Our shots just started to go in,” Waite said. “Our energy was there and I thought our defense was very good and we were rebounding and doing everything we could on offense.”
The Braves were able to keep their lead into the second minute of the third quarter when a layup by FIU’s Hope Butera broke a deadlock at 37 points. Another layup and a 3-pointer was all that separated the Braves and the Panthers heading into the final quarter.
Bradley got the closest to tying the game at the 2:23 mark of the fourth quarter when junior Daija Powell made it 57-54 after a free throw. However, the Panthers finished the job with an 8-3 run that gave them a comeback win over the Braves.
Bradley returns to action next Friday against Northern Iowa in their Missouri Valley Conference opener.
“We’ve got two very tough games,” Waite said. “We’re just going to focus on ourselves and how to win these conference games and control what we can control.”