Coming off a tough double-digit loss against Evansville, Bradley’s women’s basketball battled back against Indiana State, but fell 71-60 despite a late surge to bring the game within one point.
The Braves (3-16, 0-8) have now lost 11 straight. After the game, frustration and dismay was evident from both Bradley’s coaches and players.
“It’s especially hard because of the way we fought back,” sophomore guard Alex Rouse said. “We thought we had it. Some things and calls didn’t go our way, but I’m just proud of our team for the way we fought back.”
Rouse had arguably her best game of the season, finishing with a career-high 18 points on top of four rebounds, a block, two steals and three assists. The transfer from Old Dominion was active on both sides of the ball, which she attributed to belief in her from teammates and the coaching staff.
“Pretty much the whole week my teammates and coaches told me to take my time,” Rouse said. “When I started taking my time, I found open lanes for myself and my teammates as well.”
The Braves started the game with energy and defensive intensity, forcing the Sycamores (8-9, 3-5) to go 1-8 from the field and commit three turnovers in the first seven minutes. A three from promising freshman guard Reagan Barkema gave Bradley a 10-5 lead midway through the first. Shortly after, two free throws from sophomore center Callie Ziebell gave the Braves a seven-point lead, their largest of the game.
Despite the early deficit, the Sycamores proved to be resilient. A second-chance bucket from all-conference guard Del’Janae Williams sparked the start of an 11-2 Sycamore run that gave them the 16-14 advantage after the first quarter.
In a rockfight of a second quarter, the Sycamores were able to get to the free throw line 12 times, which proved to be the difference going into halftime. At the break, the Braves trailed 31-28.
Heading to the locker room, Bradley head coach Kate Popovec-Goss emphasized offensive execution, rebounding, and discipline on defense.
“We didn’t feel like we were screening very well, we needed to clean that up on the offensive end,” Popvec-Goss said. “I wanted to relieve some of the pressure on us to make tough shots. Keeping them off the glass and keeping them off of the free throw line [was another point we talked about].”
The message may have fallen flat as the Braves third quarter woes that have plagued them throughout the season continued. Bradley allowed the Sycamores to make their first six shots and came up empty on their first five possessions. Bradley’s inability to create offense and lack of defensive focus gave the Sycamores a 12-point lead midway through the frame.
“Our third quarter starts are always poor,” Popovec-Goss said. “That’s something we have to continue to look at [and] I don’t know what the answer is. It’s those moments where I have to take a timeout in the third quarter because we’re just not ready to go.”
After the Braves’ 30-second timeout early in the third quarter, the group seemed to snap out of their second half troubles. Bradley closed the frame shooting 5-9 including two threes from Barkema. BU cut what was once a 12-point deficit to five, and trailed 52-47 heading into the fourth.
“I just told them we had to fight,” Popvec-Goss said. “I really challenged them. I said you guys can either fold or you can fight.”
The Braves did not fold.
A steal and layup from Alex Rouse set the tone for Bradley early in the fourth and allowed a newfound source of energy to course through the group. As the two teams battled back and forth, a layup from junior forward Isis Fitch brought the Braves within 54-53 with 6:16 left and forced a Sycamore timeout.
On the brink of their first conference win of the year, the Braves fell short. Down the stretch, the Braves shot just 2-8 and committed four turnovers to end the 71-60 loss.
While the team has learned to fight back and not quit, putting themselves in position to not require a comeback will help the squad going forward. The Braves’ next opportunity to do so will be a trip to Chicago to battle with the Illinois-Chicago Flames on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.