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Coyotes pull away, spoil Braves’ home opener

Caroline Waite reads the defense vs South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Coming off an 83-38 loss to Missouri, Bradley women’s basketball battled with South Dakota Sunday afternoon but were eventually put away in a 71-53 loss.

The game was competitive and eventful in the early going due to the high energy and pace dictated right from the tip. South Dakota, a perennial Summit League power, opened up the first quarter with a 13-9 lead before sophomore guards Alex Rouse and Caroline Waite led a 10-2 Bradley run.

The Braves ended the first quarter ahead 19-15 behind seven points from Waite and six from Rouse, as the team shot at an impressive 60 percent clip from behind the arc and 56 percent from the field overall in the frame.

Bradley head coach Kate Popovec-Goss thought the work in practice helped the Braves’ offense execute well in the first quarter.

“One of the things we focused on the past couple of days in practice is our offensive execution,” Popovec-Goss said. “I thought that today we cleaned up our execution. Our kids took what we did in practice and applied it in the game.”

The start of the second quarter was much of the same for the Braves as they extended their lead to 10. Junior guard Ruba Abo Hashesh sunk a triple three minutes into the second quarter to give the Braves a 27-17 lead, their largest of the game.

However, two minutes later into the second quarter, the Braves began to struggle on both sides of the ball. The Coyotes battled back with 13 straight points and held the Braves scoreless for nearly five minutes of play.

South Dakota earned multiple open looks from 3-point range and in the paint. Redshirt sophomore Alexi Hempe scored 13 of her 16 points in the 2nd quarter, sparking the run and a 37-33 halftime lead for the visitors.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Popovec-Goss said. “When they went on their run, the one thing we didn’t do is find a way to get stops. That’s what you have to do to stop runs. You can put the ball in the hoop, but you’ve got to lock in and defend. That’s a mentality we’re continuing to focus on.”

The scoring drought for the Braves continued in the third quarter, as they shot just 1-15 from the field. The Braves had good shot opportunities but could not put the ball in the basket. South Dakota took advantage of Bradley’s poor shooting and took a 53-39 lead after 30 minutes of play.

“I thought that we got great looks all night, we just couldn’t knock enough of them down,” Popovec-Goss said. “Our energy and our intensity were a little bit higher than it was at Missouri. I think we made a lot of improvements, the one thing we need to do is continue to lock in on the defensive end of the basketball.”

Up 14 to start the fourth quarter, the Coyotes extended their lead and never looked back. The Braves tried to ramp up the defensive pressure in the closing minutes, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 71-53.

Despite the rough night, the Braves had some bright spots. The former Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Waite poured in 17 points and added three steals. Waite had just six points against Missouri in the season opener, but against South Dakota she focused on competing on both ends of the floor for the entire game.

“I focused on playing hard for 40 minutes and coming together and working on the things we needed to improve,” Waite said. “Just having confidence in myself and what we were doing. I tried to focus on all different kinds of shots and make offense out of my defense.”

Rouse added 12 points and Abo Hashesh notched nine points to go with six rebounds and three assists, both of which tied for the team lead.

The Braves are still looking for their first non-exhibition win of the season, and hope to break that streak on Nov. 16 in a return game at Wisconsin.

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