The Bradley (11-4 in MVC) women’s basketball team hosts No. 21 Missouri State (13-2 in MVC) Sunday afternoon at 2, and it’s a game you won’t want to miss. It will be the last home game for the program this season and the Bears are coming off a 12-point loss at Illinois State. The Braves are fresh off a 61-57 win over Southern Illinois.
And if they win it, or keep it close, unlike Jan. 21 in Springfield where the Braves fell to the Bears 56-90, Bradley has hopes of making the NCAA or NIT tournament as an at-large bid, or rather as the Missouri Valley Conference automatic bid.
That only happens if the Braves prove they can compete with the best of the best.
Of course, for the ultimate upset to come to fruition, Bradley must be firing all cylinders, especially on defense. Missouri State averages 77.9 points per game to BU’s 70.7. Shooting percentage will also be key as the Braves allow 36.2 percent conversion from the floor. Uncharacteristically the Bears shot 35.3 percent from the field and only shot 4-18 from 3-point distance in Normal.
“We work the ball around well, so if we just do that and play together and don’t go one-on-one like we sometimes do I think we will be fine,” senior captain Amber Bozeman said.
The same starting five has been leading the team much of the season: sophomore point guard Tatum Koenig, sharpshooting sophomore guard Lasha Petree, junior guard all-around Gabi Haack, junior athletic forward Nyjah White and senior do-it-for-the-team forward Chelsea Brackmann. Additional rotation players junior forward Emily Marsh and freshman long guard Mahri Petree will need to use their length to control the strength of the Bears.
When Marsh went down with a facial injury requiring stitches on Thursday the Braves lost their sense of self, according to head coach Andrea Gorski.
“We needed her to come back in because Nyjah was in foul trouble,” Gorski said. “We definitely got out of rhythm there.”
Upon her return the Braves stretched the lead to 17 with 8:51 remaining. The Salukis did come back and tie it up, yet BU won by four.
Being persistent will play big for Bradley Sunday.
“We gotta take care of the ball down the stretch,” Gorski said of the Braves 25 turnovers. “It was really important for us to win the rebounding battle today. I just liked how we were in attack mode getting to the basket.”
BU won the rebounding battle 31-25 Thursday night and that leads to success.
Bradley averages 39.9 rebounds per game yet was outrebounded at Missouri State by 11. It also shot a dismal 31.4 percent from the field. Ball security and stealing from the Bears is also a key to success as the Braves committed 14 turnovers in Missouri a month ago. The bears committed six total. When Bradley outrebounds its opponent is just flat out doesn’t lose.
Come out Sunday at 2 p.m. to cheer on the Braves, who have a much better chance to represent Bradley on the national stage than the men. As Scout alumnus Cole Bredahl wrote in the preseason “it might just be the women’s year.” When the crowds came out to support the hometown team Jan. 24 and 26 against UNI and Drake, BU won.
After two losses at those team’s home floors and a win over Southern Illinois, Bradley is determined to finish the season strong.
It’s not a simple formula to win, but if the Braves don’t turn the ball over, shoot a bit over season average from the floor and refrain from fouling you never know what will happen.
With relatively easy road victories surely on tap over Indiana State and Evansville to close the season, this is where the Braves need to prove themselves. It starts with taking care of the ball and handling the pressure that comes with physicality.
“[Missouri State] beat us in every facet last time we played them,” Gorski said. “They’re super physical … we didn’t run our sets so we have to have two really good days of prep for it.”
Bozeman said that the physicality and having the ball up for grabs many times Thursday will help the team Sunday.
“We got physical [Thursday night], got the job done, we need to do the same,” Bozeman said.
“We are way more focused right now than we were when we went there.”