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Third quarter collapse sours Braves’ return home

Isis Fitch vs Northern Iowa. Photo courtesy of Bradley women’s basketball/Twitter.

The third quarter has not been the strong suit of Bradley women’s basketball this season.

In fact, if the third quarter was never played at all, the team would be flirting with a .500 record.

Instead, the 3-9 Braves have outscored their opponent in the third quarter just once this season, and the 34-9 disparity in their 83-64 loss to Northern Iowa on Friday night was their biggest deficit yet.

“We have to put it together for all four quarters,” junior forward Isis Fitch said. “We can’t have that drop off in the third and we got to bring what we had in the first half to the second.”

In the Missouri Valley Conference opener and the first home game for the Braves in a month, Bradley’s meltdown after halftime erased what was otherwise a respectable performance in head coach Kate Popovec-Goss’ introduction to MVC play. The Braves had a 35-30 lead heading into the locker room, holding the Panthers to just 35 percent shooting.

“I don’t think we could’ve executed our game plan any better,” Popovec-Goss said. “We got stops, we forced them to play in the half court and out of transition and we rebounded the basketball.”

Out of the break, it was the Grace Boffeli show, as UNI’s leading scorer put on a 10-1 run by herself to push the lead back in the visitors’ favor. Back-to-back threes made it a 10-point game, and a 21-1 run finally ended with the Braves’ first made field goal of the quarter with 3:49 left, making it 51-38 Panthers.

Yet, the next run had only just begun, as almost three minutes later a wide-open three from UNI’s Maya McDermott made it 63-40, capping off a 33-5 run from the Panthers to start the third.

“Northern Iowa (6-4, 1-0 MVC) is a great team, and you cannot keep them from what they’re going to do for 40 minutes of basketball,” Popovec-Goss said. “We didn’t adjust and we continued to give them confidence, let them play fast, up-tempo basketball which is just not where we’re at right now.”

The only Braves who seemed to have any success in the third were sophomore guards Alex Rouse and Nika Dorsey, who combined to score all of the team’s nine points in the frame. Rouse, who finished with a team-high 16 points, understands that improvement needs to be made.

“We just have to come together,” Rouse said. “We got to learn how to bring in the energy after halftime.”

Alex Rouse looks to drive past the defender. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

The second quarter was more favorable for the Braves, as Rouse’s driving layup with 8:11 left to go in the half tied the game at 18. The Richmond transfer scored 10 of Bradley’s first 18 points.

“You know, focusing on not trying to force anything, letting the game come to me,” Rouse said about her performance. “I think that’s what helped me the most, creating stuff for me and my teammates.”

The Braves would take the lead for a brief moment on a couple of free throws from junior forward Daija Powell, until the Panthers got their first points of the second quarter on a Kayba Laube three to make it 21-20. Ruba Abo Hashesh made sure that didn’t last long, as the junior collected her first points on Bradley’s first 3-pointer of the game at 6:51, retaking the lead for the home team.

A Fitch jumper with 5:37 to go capped off an 11-3 run for the Braves, holding UNI to 2-13 shooting to start the frame. The forward finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for her first career double-double, something she says she’s been working towards.

“Just knowing I’m quicker,” Fitch said about her success on Friday. “Especially defensively, being able to beat my man to the ball before they could get it even if I was out of position.”

The Panthers retook the lead 28-27 after McDermott collected an offensive rebound for an easy layup, but Braves leading scorer Caroline Waite finally got in on the scoring action on a floater with 1:34 to go in the half to take the lead right back.

The sophomore Waite tried to continue her scoring on the next possession, but after getting her shot blocked twice she found Abo Hashesh for a three before hitting her first three the next time she touched the ball, giving the Braves their five point halftime lead.

“We got stops, plain and simple,” Popovec-Goss said. “We talked a lot about how we’re going to win games and we did a tremendous job in the first half.”

It’d be the last time Waite scored, as the Panthers planned around her well and held the star to just five points. As a team, UNI shot over 60 percent from the field and from three in the third quarter, while the Braves only managed a 25 percent mark while going 0-4 from beyond the arc.

“We have a little bit of a pattern to break of when we’re not able to score, we lose our intensity defensively, and that was really evident in the third quarter,” Popovec-Goss said. “So we have to continue to find ways to get stops even if we’re not scoring.”

The Braves stay home for a battle with Drake on New Year’s Day at 2 p.m.

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