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Women’s basketball ready for big weekend at home

Junior Nyjah White drives on Drake at Renaissance Coliseum earlier this season. Photo via Bradley Athletics.

The women’s basketball team has won a program record 15 straight home games. After a season-long three game road trip, the Braves (17-4, 8-2 in MVC) return to Renaissance Coliseum tonight.

Bradley was flat two weeks ago in losses at Missouri State and Southern Illinois, according to head coach Andrea Gorski. The team bounced back in a big way last Friday, completing the season sweep of rival Illinois State, 66-62.

The Braves shot a combined 34-101 in their 90-56 and 64-50 losses. At Redbird Arena, they shot 10 percent better from the field.

Much of the turnaround can be credited to junior forward Nyjah White, who had 17 points and eight rebounds. She is averaging 10.5 points to go with five rebounds per game thus far this season.

“She’s been the x-factor, no doubt about it,” Gorski said. “She’s evolved her game, can hit that midrange jumper now fairly consistently, so that’s really changed how people defend us. She’s hard to guard one-on-one and does a really good job of seeing a double team and dumping it to the open player.”

Being able to record 2.7 assists per game is a result of those passes and strong chemistry teamwide, according to White. She said the team needed to get back to playing the way it could and having only one game to worry about as Illinois State is its travel partner helped.

“We just needed to get rejuvenated a bit, catch our breath, rest our legs [after our two losses]. It was a game to show we are still in the league,” White said.

The Braves are in second place in the Valley and were awarded an 11 seed, at-large selection in the latest mock ESPN Bracketology by analyst Charlie Creme. Gorski also believes that the Braves needed to get back to the gameplay that had given them such a strong start to the season.

“We didn’t really do anything different [in practice before Illinois State],” Gorski said. “This team is very resilient, super close-knit and works extremely hard. Sometimes it’s just a bad weekend and you don’t want to change things up and abandon ship. I kinda felt like let’s just get back to doing what we do and focus on defense a little bit more.”

The MVC is a physical league and that affected the Braves during the skid. Bradley got pushed around, according to Gorski.

“We just got frustrated on offense and it affected our defensive mojo,” Gorski said.

That rang true for White, who capitalized on her newfound maturity in the game against Illinois State.

“The game has slowed down a bit for her [this season] where she knows she can play hard but doesn’t have to play out of control,” Gorski said. “She can play fast but not rushed.”

White, along with the other Braves, will need to pace herself when they host an unorthodox Valparaiso team that plays position-less basketball and a skilled squad Loyola this weekend. The Braves beat them the two back-to-back on the road by an average of 13.5 points in mid-January.

“These are two huge games for us, really big games for us and we can’t have any let ups,” Gorski said. “[The Ramblers] are more personnel based where Valpo you gotta stop the system. They couldn’t be more opposite.”

She also said the recent attendance spike at Renaissance Coliseum has made a significant difference for the Braves, both energy and morale wise. The Braves average a home crowd of 1,117 per game.

“That energy [during the UNI and Drake sweep] in the building, we really feed off that,” Gorski said. “We got a little bit more pep in our step. I’m glad we finally have a good home court advantage.”

Bradley hosts Valparaiso tonight at 7 and Loyola on Sunday at 2 p.m. The first 100 fans will receive a Valentine’s Day gift tonight and the first 300 Sunday receive a pink Bradley bracelet.

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