Competition walked into the ARC for head coach Mary Evans and her team as they faced adversity from two of the top five teams in the Missouri Valley Conference: Illinois State and Bradley. Both teams have pinned more than 10 wins overall, and came this weekend with offensive authority. At the end of the weekend stretch, Valpo fell against Illinois State 72-60 and Bradley 75-61.
“It was a really tough weekend. I think we played two very good teams in Illinois State and Bradley. In this league, it’s really good,” Evans said.
Both ISU and Bradley are top 100 Rating Percentage Index (RPI) teams, according to Evans.
“I think this team is really really close to be able to beat teams like this. We just have to get over the hump and do a few things better,” Evans said.
The first quarter showed promise for Valpo up until the end. Sophomore guard Shay Frederick made the first basket of the game with a three pointer, but ISU came back with a six point run. Valpo was able to tie the game up three more times after until the Redbirds went on a 10 point hunt to close off the quarter.
The second quarter started off in ISU’s favor with another basket, but Valpo’s defense kept the Redbird’s scoreless for four minutes. In those four minutes, Valpo’s offense was able to cut the lead due from sophomore guard Ilysee Pitts jump shot in the paint and red shirt junior forward Caitlin Morrison’s heroics on the perimeter and on the line. After another double digit run by ISU, Valpo ended the first half down 37-24.
Valpo showed more resilience in the second half on the defensive side, as the lead was chopped down to seven points throughout the third quarter. With five and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, senior guard Grace Hales’s jumpshot in the paint gave Valpo the smallest deficit at six points. However, the Redbirds answered with another nine points to extend a 15 point lead, and Valpo lost the game 72-60.
Sunday’s match saw Valpo face off against Bradley, who were ranked first in the Valley. Bradley proved their dominance on the court by capturing the lead early in the first quarter with 20 points. Although Bradley added on another seven points to extend, Valpo’s effort of an eight point burst was able to tie the score to 27.
Valpo saw its first lead change with 2:16 left in the half. Junior forward Ella Ellenson made this happen with fast-break layup assisted by Shay. The first half ended 33-29.
Valpo was able to tie up early in the third quarter with a quick seven point run. Morrison came in clutch with five of the seven points points to tie the game.
“She continues to get better and better,” Evans said. “I challenge the whole team, but especially her to do better rebounding the basketball. She came up with five really good defensive boards for us in her time today. I thought she found better ways to score today other than just shooting the three, they were playing her a little bit different, and she found ways to kind of dive to the rim and get some layups. But she continues to get better and better every single day, every single practice, so I am looking forward to watching her grow.”
After a pair of three pointers from Bradley, the quarter lead rose to 11 to end the third. Although Valpo tried to cut the deficit in the final quarter, Bradley kept them scoreless for four minutes, giving the Braves the 75-61 win.
Morrison had a career-high 15 points and five boards. Hales also chipped in 13 points and made all six of her shots from the free throw line.
“She’s a great shooter and she is also a smart basketball player. She is always working hard, doing the right thing. She is fun to play with,” Morrison said about Hales.
Valpo’s ability to score off the bench was a particular strength in this game. Junior guard Grace White made nine of the 14 bench points through 20 minutes. As a team, Valpo made 11 of their 13 free throws from the free throw line.
“We have a great free throw shooting team. I would like to get there more than 13 times, but when we get there we shoot it pretty darn well,” Evans said. “That’s a testament to our players coming in and doing the work and making sure they are confident when they get to go to the stripe.”
The home game stretch continues with Loyola coming to Valpo on Friday, Jan. 24. Game tips off in the ARC at 6p.m.