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Braves beat UNI, advance to Hoops in Heartland semifinals

Gabbi Haack fights for a rebound in Bradley’s quarterfinal game. Photo via Missouri Valley Conference.

The Bradley Women’s basketball team will live to see another day as they defeated number four seed Northern Iowa 62-59 in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament

“Really proud of the team for, you know, just sticking with it, sticking with the game plan,” head coach Andrea Gorski said. 

Keyed by senior guard Gabi Haack’s school-tournament record 25-point performance, Friday’s semifinal featured the back-and-forth action that was prevalent in both matchups between the two teams during the regular season. In the end, the Braves advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2009.

“It feels good to win, that was a battle,” Haack said. “We played a good 40 minutes. Started off a little rough, but you know, we got it together.” 

Besides offense, it was the stout Bradley defense that was hugely responsible for the outcome of the game. Limited on the offensive end to just six points, junior Lasha Petree recorded 5 steals and two blocks on the defensive end. Senior Emily Marsh recorded four blocks and two steals.

“[Northern Iowa] had to earn their points, and that’s what we wanted coming in,” Gorski said.

Northern Iowa was led on the offensive end by Karly Rucker with 19 points followed by Megan Maahs with 17. 

The Braves started out slow as a 9-0 Northern Iowa run gave them a 14-5 lead at the first media timeout. A late layup from Mahri Petree cut the deficit to seven as the Panthers held an 18-11 edge at the end of the first frame.

“Northern Iowa is a great defensive team and it really showed in that first quarter,” Gorski said.

By the second quarter, the Braves started to heat up. They took advantage of a Panther cold streak that limited them to 1-12 shooting to end the quarter. A 7-0 run allowed Bradley to tie the game at 20 at the 4:08 mark of the quarter. Northern Iowa answered with a three-pointer from Emerson Green, which led them to a narrow 25-24 halftime advantage.

“We talked about, hey, if we can get into the locker room with [Northern Iowa] at 26 or 28 at halftime, we’re going to win the game,” Gorski said.

It was a cold start to the half as both teams shot a combined 2-14 from the floor. A 9-0 Bradley run powered by free throws carried them to a 33-30 edge at the 4:35 mark of the third quarter. After that, it was back-and forth as both teams traded blows to end the quarter. 

Both teams continued to trade blows in the fourth quarter. The Panthers scored the first four points of the frame to tie the game at 41. Bradley responded with two baskets from Haack to retake the lead. A layup from Bre Gunnels cut the Bradley lead to 46-43 at the 6:46 mark of the fourth quarter. 

Like the first match-up, it seemed to be heading towards a nail-biting finish. The Panthers briefly re-captured the lead 49-48 at the 4:17 mark of the quarter. But the Braves weren’t finished. 

A 7-0 run accelerated by a three-point play from Haack carried Bradley to a 55-49 lead with 2:14 remaining in the quarter, putting a dent into the Panthers chances. A clutch two-point basket from senior Nyjah White and free-throws from Marsh sealed the win for the Braves.

Up next, the Braves will face off against number one seed Missouri State in the tournament semifinals. The Bears won their quarterfinal matchup against Southern Illinois 70-59 and swept the Braves during their regular season series. The chance for an upset is a source of motivation for the Braves.

“I’m really hungry to play them again,” Haack said. “We’re just going to have to focus on our scout, focus on winning the rebound battle, and just focus on stopping their key players,” Haack said.

Heading into tomorrow’s match-up, the confidence remains plentiful amongst the team. 

“We’re going to put the best game plan together, Gorski said. “I like our team’s mentality going into the game for sure.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon on ESPN+.

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