CEDAR FALLS – Opportunity was there for the University of Northern Iowa to pick up a signature women’s basketball home win against Missouri Valley Conference leader Missouri State Sunday afternoon inside the McLeod Center.
Despite playing a brilliant opening half and leading for the majority of the game, UNI was unable to finish. Missouri State used its defense, depth and aggressiveness to rally to a 63-58 road victory.
The Bears (13-7, 9-0 MVC) became the first school since Indiana State in 2014 to secure road wins over travel partners UNI and Drake in the same weekend. MSU ended the Bulldogs’ league record 47-game conference win streak on Friday and now have their own win streak of 12 games that is the second-longest active run in the nation.
“This is an unbelievably tough road swing for everyone in the Valley,” Missouri State coach Kellie Harper said. “We are thrilled to be walking out with two wins. I’m really proud of our team.”
On the other end of the spectrum, UNI coach Tanya Warren was disappointed her team wasn’t able to take care of details.
UNI made 50 percent of its field goals in the first half before shooting 39.2 percent over the final two quarters. After holding a rebounding advantage of five over Missouri State in the first half, UNI was outrebounded by seven in the second. The Bears recorded eight offensive rebounds over the final two quarters.
In addition to being the MVC’s leader in rebounding margin, Missouri State is also the leader in turnover margin and held a 21-14 advantage over UNI in that department.
Taking care of the basketball and rebounding were UNI’s top two points of emphasis entering this game.
“They wanted it more than we did,” Warren said. “We did a terrible job of executing when we had the lead, nonchalant turnovers that led into transition points. Just fouled way too much. Not typical of what we do.”
Missouri State won despite not making a single 3-pointer. UNI settled for perimeter shots against the Bears’ second-half zone and finished 4-for-24 from distance over the final three stanzas.
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“We weren’t knocking down the 3,” UNI point guard Karli Rucker said after leading her team with 11 points and six assists. “We didn’t dribble penetrate and we kept shooting 3s and didn’t make them.”
The major discrepancy in this game came at the free throw line where Missouri State attempted 29 to UNI’s one. Free throws accounted for the majority of the points in a 16-2 go-ahead run by the Bears that extended from the end of the third quarter into the start of the fourth.
Looking to switch things up after UNI led by as many as seven points in the second quarter, Harper turned to a quartet of freshmen reserves and a sophomore off the bench. Sydney Manning led that contingent with three offense rebounds and was one of four players on her team in double figures after reaching 10 points.
“We had to do something different,” Harper said. “They were scoring at will. I thought they were eating some clock up and managing the game well. We just needed a change-up. We threw a lot of young folks in there, switched up our defense to try and throw a kink at them.”
UNI still had chances late.
A 3-pointer by Nicole Kroeger cut the deficit to 57-54 with 5:06 remaining. The Panthers' offense then followed with a shot clock violation and two turnovers before missing three attempts from 3-point range that would have tied the game in the final 1 minute, 23 seconds.
“It’s really frustrating because as an athlete you want to be able to make those shots,” said UNI forward Heidi Hillyard, who led her defense with four steals and added two 3-pointers. “I know it’s something we all need to work on towards the end of the season, and I think we can do it.”
Injuries continue to mount for UNI. Senior Ellie Howell limped off with a knee injury at the end of the third quarter and didn’t return. Kam Finley has now missed the last three games with a health issue and Rose Simon-Ressler remains in a boot after missing the past five with a foot injury.
That’s on top of the season-ending ACL injury to all-conference center Megan Maahs.
“We’ve got four of our top eight out,” Warren said. “It’s one of those years, but we’re going to keep fighting.”