CARBONDALE (SIU ATHLETICS)– The Southern Illinois University women’s basketball team improved to 2-0 in Missouri Valley Conference play with a 69-51 win over the University of Evansville Purple Aces inside Banterra Center on Saturday, Jan. 2.
The Salukis, winners of two-straight and five of their last six contests, shot 66.7-percent (8-of-12) from the field in the second quarter to take a double-digit lead into the half that it never relinquished.
“I’m really proud of our team,” eighth-year head coach Cindy Stein said. “We had to find ourselves. A lot of kids got a lot of great minutes and gained valuable experience. Throughout our lineup, kids had good possessions and we made some good defensive adjustments. Evansville wasn’t able to get much traction on us. Our kids built a wall and played hard. It was a really good opportunity for our team and we got better this weekend.”
Southern continued to apply significant defensive pressure in the second half and held the nation’s fourth-best three-point shooting team coming into the weekend to a season-low 16.7-percent (2-of-12) shooting from behind the arc. Southern held the Aces, who came into the contest averaging seven made threes per game, to just four three-pointers on 17.3-percent shooting for the weekend.
“We knew we were going to win with defense,” Caitlin Link said. “Without Makenzie and Abby we needed to be tenacious on defense, not let them back door us and not let them get out to the three-point line. We kept them to 2-of-12 from three, which was big.”
On top of SIU’s strong defensive effort, the Salukis once again won the battle of the boards, 41-to-28. Southern dished out a season-high 23 assists on 27 made baskets and shot a season-best 40.9-percent (9-of-22) from long distance.
“Ball movement is so important for us,” Stein said. “Our kids are finally learning where they need to be. We put in X numbers of plays and kids will sometimes stand in spots so when those spots are taken away they have to figure that out. But we have some great passers and ball handlers on this team and we were able to find open shooters. Our posts did a great job kicking the ball out to shooters as well. Our selfless play definitely helped our assist total.”
The Salukis had three players score in double figures, led for the second-straight night by Payton McCallister. McCallister set a career-high in points for the second-straight game as she scored 17 points. Her junior counterpart, Caitlin Link, set career-bests in points (11), rebounds (8) and assists (5). Adrianna Katcher, meanwhile, poured in a career-high 11 points to go along with seven rebounds, three steals and three assists.
It was another complete team effort for the Salukis, who were again without their two leading scorers in Abby Brockmeyer and Makenzie Silvey due to COVID-19 protocols. Gabby Walker had one of her most productive games of her Saluki career, as she finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and a career-high five assists. Allea Potter set a career-high with six points and two assists in 18 minutes while Rachel Pudlowski added nine points and two steals. Pudlowski was instrumental in holding 2020 MVC Freshman of the Year Abby Feit below her scoring average, as she needed 15 shots to score her 15 points.
The contest hung in the balance throughout he opening ten minutes of play, with Southern taking its largest lead of the opening frame, 18-13, on a put back by Katcher. The Salukis used a 16-6 spurt to go ahead, 37-25 with 1:21 remaining in the first half. Southern’s lead remained double-digits for the remainder of the contest after Katcher’s basket with :02 to play in the first half put SIU ahead by 11. The Salukis took their largest lead, 69-49, on a Pudlowski layup with just under two minutes to play.
The Salukis improved to 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2018 with the win. Southern joined Northern Iowa as the only two MVC programs to sweep their conference-opening series. The Salukis will try to make it 3-0 in conference play next weekend when they head to Bradley for a two-game series with the Braves beginning Friday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m.