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Rouse’s big night leads Popovec-Goss and Braves to first conference win

Bradley women’s basketball celebrates. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics


That’s the only word that can be used to describe the Bradley women’s basketball locker room after a hard fought win in Evansville.

“The emotions were high,”sophomore guard Alex Rouse said. “Every single person had a huge smile on their face. Everyone was dancing and it’s just the moment that we’ve all been working for.”

Heading into the game against Evansville, Bradley had lost 22 games in a row and had not won an away game in over two years. Both streaks ended Saturday evening when the Braves triumphed over the Purple Aces, 61-51.

All year, Bradley had been quick to start games on the right foot but struggled to hang on over the course of the game. The Braves looked focused offensively and most importantly, defensively for four quarters this time.

Through the first five minutes of the game, Bradley forced three turnovers and held Evansville to 2-for-8 shooting. Turnovers led to easy buckets in transition and gave the Braves a 14-4 lead before the media timeout. After the timeout, Bradley continued to contest every shot the Purple Aces attempted and would lead 20-8 going into the second quarter.

“We were locked in from the start defensively, which allowed us to get out and run on offense,” Popovec-Goss said. “I thought a lot of our early looks were at the rim, which was great.”

Looking to replicate the first frame, Bradley continued to attack the paint in the second. In fact, the team did not make a three the entire quarter, a stark contrast from the previous game against Indiana State, where they made 15 threes. On the defensive side of the ball, Bradley swarmed the Purple Aces and contested nearly every shot at the rim. When Evansville did find themselves open for shots, they couldn’t knock them down. The Aces shot 0-for-7 from three, and 4-for-15 overall, helping the Braves lead 32-18 going into the half.

On the brink of their first win in nearly three months, the Braves knew they’d need to lock in on the defensive end to pull out the win. 

“I told them that this game was going to be won on defense,” Popovec-Goss said. “Plain and simple. No matter what happened in the second half, we could not lose our intensity on the defensive side of the ball.”

The Braves didn’t.

Looking to salvage a devastating loss, Evansville attempted to make runs to get back into the game, but each time the Aces ran, Bradley had an answer. Whether it was a charge, diving for a loose ball, or boxing out, the Braves made winning plays down the stretch to keep the Purple Aces at bay.

Alex Rouse gives direction on offense. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

2021 All-MVC Conference First Team recipient Abby Feit got it going in the third for Evansville, scoring seven of her team’s 19 points. On the opposing side, Bradley sophomore Alex Rouse attacked the basket with a purpose, getting to the line several times. The promising guard stuffed the stat sheet, finishing the game with 16 points, six rebounds, and two steals. 

“I knew today was our last game [of the regular season],” Rouse said. “I wanted to do everything I could for the team to make sure we secured the win, I knew I had to be aggressive.”

Up 12 heading into the final quarter, Bradley was in a position seen just a few times this season. They had to learn to finally close one out.

Despite being down, Evansville stayed aggressive and got to the line on four separate occasions in the first five minutes, cutting the lead in half. The Braves responded to Evansville’s run by hitting free throws of their own, going 8-for-11 from the line in the quarter.

“I was really proud of our players’ poise today,” Popovec-Goss said. “Every time Evansville made a run, we responded. Because we were able to take care of the basketball and control the glass, we were able to sustain our intensity throughout the game.”

Bradley forward Isis Fitch prepares for the tipoff. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Sophomore guard Caroline Waite, who chipped in 12 points, scored the last point of the game at the free throw line, to give Bradley the 61-51 win. Isis Fitch finished with a 10-point, 10-rebound double double.

Two days prior against Indiana State, the Braves held a four-point halftime lead, but poor shooting and lack of defensive focus led to an 87-71 loss. After the game, first-year head coach Kate Popovec-Goss was not pleased with the defensive effort. 

“We let them go on a huge scoring run when we missed some shots we had hit in the first half,” Popovec-Goss said. “We didn’t do a good job, We let two of their shooters string together big shots.” 

Bradley’s contest against Evansville was the Braves’ last of the regular season as their focus now shifts to the MVC Tournament where they’ll face Missouri State in Moline, Illinois on March 9. Despite being heavy underdogs, Popovec-Goss believes in her team. 

“The magic of March is real,” Popovec-Goss said. “I think that our offense has been much improved since the first half of the season. If we can find ways to compete defensively for 40 minutes, I think good things will happen.”

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