A defensive breakdown against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers kept the Bradley Braves from toppling the Missouri Valley Conference’s top ranked team Friday night, losing 71-61.
The Panthers began the second half on a 15-2 run, challenging the Braves’ defense.
“It was that first four minutes coming out of the half,” coach Paula Buscher said. “They definitely were the aggressors. We didn’t handle things well offensively and we didn’t handle things well defensively in that four-minute segment.”
The Braves gave up fast breaks and 3-pointers at an unusual rate over the four minutes, culminating in a 47-30 lead that was insurmountable for the Braves.
Bradley’s first half defense was much more disciplined, led by the play of junior MacKenzie Westcott. She totaled seven steals against a Panthers offense that had averaged only 13.6 turnovers a game.
The second-half lapse in defense sparked the Panther’s offense, increasing their first half shooting percentage by 11 percent.
“Other than that, I thought our kids played their tails off,” Buscher said. ”But we just had that one section that just killed us.”
Along with Westcott’s nine points and six rebounds, junior Hanna Muegge led the Braves, scoring 13 points. Sophomore Katie Yohn was the only other Bradley player in double figures with 10 points.
The Panthers, on the other hand, had four players in double figures. Led by Rachel Madrigal’s 18 points, Jacqui Kalin’s 16 and Katelin Oney’s 15, the Panthers offense was too much. With all three hitting at least two 3-pointers, the Braves gave up 24 points from behind the arc.
“The thing we’re going to hold on to from this is that our level of improvement from a month ago is huge,” Buscher said. “We played a very good ballgame except for that four minutes that wasn’t good at all.”
The Braves didn’t let the 15-2 UNI run slow them down much longer. The Braves answered back with a 10-2 run of their own, led by five points from Westcott.
The Panthers and Braves exchanged offensive runs for the rest of the game.
The 69-61 score with a minute and a half left looked like a promising time to make their move, especially after a last minute 3-point shot by Yohn.
The Braves ran out of time and the Panthers went on to win their 14th straight game.
Two games separate the Braves from the fifth place Indiana State Sycamores.
The Braves take on the Sycamores Saturday at 3:05 in the arena.