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Waite scores 22, Braves run away in Popovec-Goss’ first win as head coach

Caroline Waite gets set on defense. Photo by Jenna Zeise

It may have taken a fourth game or a new environment, but Bradley women’s basketball earned its first victory of the season on Saturday evening at Carver Arena against the McNeese State Cowgirls 77-58.

“I’m just really proud,” head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said. “For them to be as poised and resilient as they were tonight was just so fun and I loved enjoying it with them because together we’re growing and it’s just awesome.”

The Braves entered the contest winless and with an average margin of defeat of 39. To give themselves a chance, they needed to cut down on the turnovers, of which they averaged over 18 a game heading into the contest.

“We’ve struggled with that in the past few games,” sophomore guard Caroline Waite said. “Making that an emphasis and making sure that’s better was what we were working on in practice.”

Playing at Carver Arena as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team, the Braves allowed their opponent to jump on the board within the first five seconds. McNeese State’s Kaili Chamberlin knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to start the scoring affair early.

The Cowgirls seemed to know how to beat Bradley’s defense, as they opened a five-point lead in the first quarter. However, both teams traded buckets until junior Isis Fitch sank a triple at the top of the key to give the Braves the 23-22 lead after one quarter of play.

Despite the advantage, Popovec-Goss made it clear that the defense was not going to cut it.

Head coach Kate Popovec-Goss draws up a play during a timeout. Photo by Jenna Zeise

“What we run is hard, so there’s going to be some growing pains with it,” Popovec-Goss said. “The first quarter I was not pleased and I let them know. One of my assistants rightfully suggested that we switch our defense and I said ‘No, they can live with this and believe in it’.”

The message was successful, as the Braves held their opponent to just eight second quarter points. Waite made her second and third 3-pointers of the game, the latter of which contributed to a personal 5-0 spurt to end the first half with the Braves up 36-30. Both Fitch and Waite led the team with 11 points at the half and the Braves only turned the ball over two times.

Sophomore guard Alex Rouse, who scored all six of her points in the second half wasted no time out of the locker room. Bradley opened up a 10-point lead but weren’t able to pull away just yet. McNeese State stayed feisty on defense and cut the Bradley lead down to four, with the home team holding the 48-44 advantage.

Looking to finish strong, the Braves held a 57-50 lead with under five minutes to go. Waite and the team used a huddle to remind themselves of what the Cowgirls would try to do.

“We knew they were going to press and try to get us out of speed and out of control,” Waite said. “We knew we just had to stay poised and take care of the ball to take this one.”

Three minutes and a 15-0 run later, the Braves had all but put away the game, taking a 22-point lead and eventually going on to win 77-58.

A thunderous roar echoed through the tunnels of Carver Arena afterwards, and Popovec-Goss’ smile afterwards seemed to be contagious amongst the players as they made their way out.

“I was just excited to be with them; I got dumped on with a cooler,” Popovec-Goss said. “To share these experiences with them; this is my first team and they’ll always be my first team, no one can take that away.”

Daija Powell grabs hold of the ball. Photo by Jenna Zeise

The Braves’ effort was not to be diminished by the historical mark. Waite finished with six 3-pointers and 22 points while her counterpart Fitch added 17. Junior guard Daija Powell posted her second career double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.

“We’ve got a lot of kids that are bought into what we’re trying to do and I thought today they just showed tremendous resiliency because it could have gone in a lot of different directions,” Popovec-Goss said.

Next up for the Braves is a contest against NAIA member Missouri-Baptist. That game tips off at Renaissance Coliseum at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

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