In their first matchup against Evansville this season, the Bradley Braves battled through three quarters before the game slipped away. The Purple Aces got off to a hot start and never relinquished their lead, winning the game 73-56 and pushing the Braves’ losing streak to 10 games.
A big part of Bradley’s game plan was to limit senior forward Abby Feit, who was all-Missouri Valley Conference first team selection last season and is averaging nearly 15ppg on 44 percent shooting. Feit, averaging 15 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the floor this season, was stellar against the Braves, scoring 28 points on 11-14 shooting.
Coach Popovec-Goss cited the team’s inability to contain Evansville’s best player as a major reason for the Brave’s loss.
“We play in matchups so it’s a little bit different, it’s not relying on one person;the biggest thing for us was not to lose her,” Popovec-Goss said. “We didn’t do a great job of that, we lost her in the big moments. As soon as we were gaining momentum, we would let her get loose and hit big shots. We’ve got to contain her a little bit better, and be keyed in on their best player stronger.”
In the first quarter, the Purple Aces started hot, opening the game up with a 14-2 lead and forcing Popovec-Goss to call a timeout. In the timeout, coach Popovec-Goss preached the importance of defense.
“I took a timeout to stop the run,” Popovec-Goss said. “All we talked about was defense, I said ‘Listen ladies, the lid will come off the basket if you can string together some stops.’”
The Braves responded well.
After the timeout at the 3:30 mark of the first quarter, Bradley played stifling defense. The team forced Evansville to turn the ball over more frequently and made shots a lot tougher. Sophomore guard Nika Dorsey sparked the start of an 11-2 run by converting an and-one, which got the entire Bradley bench hyped up. By the end of the quarter, the Braves were able to close the deficit to 16-13.
The Braves moved even closer after a mid-range jumper by sophomore guard Caroline Waite that cut the Purple Ace’s lead to one with 7:02 remaining in the second quarter. After Waite’s bucket, the Purple Aces seemed to wake up and went on a run of their own. A three-pointer from Feit capped off an 11-2 run, and the Braves went into halftime down 38-27.
“As good as we were in the first quarter, I thought we were not that good in the second,” Popovec-Goss said. “A 22-point quarter is just something we can’t do. We have to hold teams of 65 and under. The fact that we were giving up so many and couldn’t find ways to score. We can’t do that. We aren’t going to outscore teams. We have to find ways to get stops.”
Evansville began to kick things into gear in the second half, while the Braves struggled to see shots fall through the net. Bradley shot 10-31 from the field in the second half and allowed the Purple Aces to shoot 13-26 from the field. Popovec-Goss thought the lack of offensive output was due to waning confidence after seeing so many shots fall short.
“I think we got really deflated confidence-wise offensively,” Popovec- Goss said. “We were really struggling to put the ball in the basket, eventually that wears on you.”
Despite the loss, there were some bright spots for the Braves. The team got good minutes from players off their bench, and junior forward Daija Powell had one of the best games of her season. The forward scored 12 points while grabbing 8 rebounds, and was dominant in the post all game.
“My teammates gave me the ball, and the coaches put me in positions to be active down low,” Powell said.
Coach Popovec was impressed with sophomore guard Nika Dorsey (7 points, 4 rebounds), and freshman guard Reagan Barkema (6 points, 1 rebound).
“I was really impressed with our bench play,” Popovec-Goss said. “I think Nika and Reagan provided a huge spark off the bench for us. If we can continue to get those consistent scoring numbers from them, in addition to the production we typically get from our starting crew, good things are going to come our way.”
The Brave’s next outing is at home Sunday, January 22nd at the Renaissance Coliseum against Indiana State.