The wait continues for Kate Popovec-Goss and the Bradley women’s basketball team for their first conference win of the season as they fell against the defending Missouri Valley Conference champions Southern Illinois 83-65 in Carbondale.
As both teams have new coaches at the helm, their MVC starts have been quite opposite, with the Braves (3-11) starting with three losses and the Salukis (6-6) winning their first three.
The lethal combo of Saluki guards Ashley Jones and Laniah Randle sank the Braves with a combined 45 points and a double-double from Randle. After trailing 20-8 through the first quarter, the Braves could not recover,shooting just 38 percent from the field and 37 percent beyond the arc.
Despite a 16-point performance from sophomore guard Caroline Waite, Bradley’s early stumble made it difficult to recover from. The Salukis started the game on a 12-0 run and Bradley’s first bucket didn’t come until a Waite 3-pointer over four minutes into the game. Bradley shot 3-13 from the field in the first quarter, compared to Southern Illinois’ 9-15 mark.
Junior Ruba Abo Hashesh scored 13 on the night with four rebounds, three assists and one steal. Sophomore Alex Rouse and junior Daija Powell both put up 11 points and four rebounds each. However, the Salukis nearly outscored the Braves on solely points in the paint, as they finished with 60.
“We’re young and that comes with its inconsistencies,” junior Isis Fitch said. “They had an inside presence, they had drivers and people attacking the paint, it was an adjustment that we made too late.”
As the MVC champions and the WNIT banners unfurled, the Salukis’ game-opening 10-0 run prompted a Bradley timeout after a Jones 3-pointer. Consistently attacking the paint, Jones put up eight points in the first quarter.
“In the first quarter we weren’t ready to go,” Bradley head coach Kate Popovec-Goss. “Unfortunately when that happens in this league, it’s tough to overcome.”
As the second quarter rolled around, it imitated the first as the Salukis took a five-point run and the Braves continued to struggle to convert. Bradley did shake off the dust by shooting 47 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc.
SIU also improved their shooting to match the Braves, shooting almost 70 percent from the field in the second quarter. The Salukis stayed on top with a 43-25 lead heading into the break.
“Adjustments we had [to make] was to play better one-on-one defense and keep them out of the paint,” Popovec-Goss said. “I’ve got to take a look at a couple of things that we are doing and maybe make some tweaks in terms of our X’s and O’s.”
Heading into the second half, Bradley was looking for consistency in the third quarter, which has consistently been the least productive of the four frames from the team this season. Despite being down by 18, the Braves were looking to chip away at the Saluki lead and recorded another 17 points, shooting 8-18 from the field. The Salukis scored 26 in the quarter to continue their high-scoring performance and took a 27-point advantage -their largest of the game.
As SIU started to pump the brakes in the fourth frame, Bradley recorded 23 points in their best effort of the game. While they might have won the quarter, It was too little, too late, for the Braves as they dropped their sixth straight.
“I thought the girls showed a lot of resilience, especially to come back and win the fourth quarter. That was our challenge,” Popovec-Goss said. “We have to commit to being the more consistent, grittier, tougher team and you see that in flashes in every game.”
The two-game road trip continues down in Springfield, Missouri against Missouri State this Saturday as the search for the first conference win continues for the Braves.
“I thought offensively it was one of our better efforts, so hopefully with that confidence going into Missouri State we can show a more consistent effort going into Saturday.” Popovec-Goss said.