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Short-handed Braves drop first two of homestand

Alex Rouse goes for a jumper against UIC, Photo Courtesy of Bradley Athletics

The Bradley women’s basketball team (6-19, 2-12 MVC) started their four-game homestand with losses to Valparaiso (5-18, 4-10 MVC) and Illinois-Chicago (15-10, 8-6 MVC). Turnovers and a lack of defensive focus led the Braves to their third and fourth straight losses. 

Another slow start

Bradley has been among the worst first-quarter teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) this season. In their 19 losses, the Braves have averaged just 14 first-quarter points. The trend continued versus the Beacons. 

Valparaiso came out the gate swinging, knocking down six of their first seven shots. The Beacons used down screens, flare screens and dribble penetration to find open looks from three and around the basket. 

Bradley’s lack of defensive focus translated to struggles on the offensive end. Since Valparaiso missed just one shot, the Braves couldn’t get out in transition and get good looks; instead, they were forced to set up in their half-court offense every possession. 

Bradley started the game with three turnovers and shot 1-6. The offensive struggles gave the Beacons a 16-5 lead, prompting a timeout from head coach Kate Popovec-Goss. 

“A lot of our slow starts are consistent with how we practice that week and how long it takes us to get going in practice,” Popovec-Goss said. “As you’ve seen, we’ve been really competitive in some games, and we’ve not been competitive in others. That slow start really has a lot to do with it.” 

Cause for optimism 

After the timeout, freshman guard Halli Poock knocked down a three to set the tone for a more competitive game from the Braves. 

The Braves played much more inspiring basketball throughout the rest of the game. After getting outscored 24-12 in the first, Bradley lost the second quarter by five, won the third quarter by three and lost the fourth quarter by four.  

While Valparaiso won 68-50, the Braves can take some positives away from the game.   

“I think our defensive consistency in the second, third, and fourth quarters was tremendous,” Popovec-Goss said. “I will be thrilled if we give up anywhere between 60 and 65 points in this league.”

Bradley established their offense using weak-side pick-and-rolls involving Poock and senior forward Isis Fitch. The two have developed synergy and have been a bright spot for the Braves over the last ten games. Versus the Beacons, Poock scored 18 points on 6-11 shooting, while Fitch added eight points and four rebounds.

“Halli and Isis have been really consistent,” Popovec-Goss said. “They’re both playing really efficient basketball right now. I’m really pleased with the synergy they have. They are really good together in screen actions.”

A change for the better 

After the slow start versus Valparaiso, the Braves made slight changes to give themselves a better chance to be more competitive early on in the game. 

“Our mindset leads to our slow starts,” junior guard Alex Rouse said. “We changed our warm-up, we’re doing a little bit more defensive scramble drills and shooting breakdowns. Hopefully, that can get us going faster and be ready to start.” 

Rouse looked much more focused and aggressive versus the Flames as she led the team in scoring with 11 points.

“The practice before the game, we changed a little bit of what we were focusing on,” Popovec-Goss said. “We had a film session where we watched a lot of film from Valpo. We selected clips and had the players talk about what they saw and their mistakes. It allowed us to see what our kids knew and gave them some ownership and urgency.”

The changes worked. 

Bradley came out playing much better in the first quarter versus UIC than they did in their previous game. The team focused on getting downhill instead of shooting threes, which they’ve struggled with all season. The Braves used a balanced scoring attack, with six players getting a bucket to take a 20-18 lead after the first frame. 

Reverting to old ways 

In the second quarter, Bradley’s offense started to slow down. The Flames opened the quarter on a 14-2 run to give themselves a ten-point lead. The Braves reverted to mistakes that have plagued them all season. During the run, Bradley turned the ball over five times. The turnovers led to nine of UIC’s 21 second-quarter points and were why the Braves trailed 39-21.

The third quarter decided the game. The Flames completely dominated, and Bradley arguably had its worst quarter all season. At 8:28, Fitch scored the Braves’ only bucket of the quarter. UIC placed immense pressure on the ball, face-guarding Poock and trapping Bradley throughout the frame. 

The Flames’ swarming defense caused seven Bradley turnovers, leading to 10 points.  After competing in the first half, the Braves headed into the fourth quarter down 18. 

Adding insult to injury

In the final quarter, the Braves did a much better job controlling the ball, but it was too late. UIC took the victory 68-47. 

Not only did Bradley lose the game, but they also lost freshman forward Claire McDougall to an injury. Injury has plagued the team this season, and the loss of McDougall allowed UIC to focus on taking Poock out of the game. 

“Claire’s a big part of our rotation,” Popovec-Goss said. “She gives us a ton of depth and offensive versatility. I think you saw us miss her in that second half. Her physicality, her ability to rebound and create on the perimeter. That hurt us.”

The Braves are back in action at home versus Illinois State on Thursday.

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