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No. 24 Missouri State holds off UNI
COLLEGE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

No. 24 Missouri State holds off UNI

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CEDAR FALLS -- Tanya Warren knew the blueprint her team needed to follow to remain perfect at home Friday night against No. 24 Missouri State.

Northern Iowa was simply unable to execute. Missouri State was the aggressor throughout the second half of a 66-55 Bears' victory that snapped an eight-game McLeod Center win streak.

Missouri State (19-3, 9-1 MVC) attempted 18 more shots, won the turnover battle, 18-8, and outrebounded UNI (13-8, 5-5) by 11 in the second half.

“The number one emphasis coming in was to eliminate empty possessions,” Warren said. “They had 18 points off of turnovers. And (second was to) rebound the basketball. They were plus-11 in the second half. That’s inexcusable.”

Warren felt the gap in toughness between her team and Missouri State's returning Sweet 16 squad was the difference in the game.

“I thought we were soft,” Warren said. “They started the third quarter with three or four straight offensive rebounds. That’s a lack of toughness, that’s a lack of being ready to play, and we have to do a better job of coming out third quarter and being ready. More than anything else, we have to play with a lot more toughness.”

Missouri State’s junior guard Brice Calip echoed Warren’s sentiment as a key to her team’s success. Calip drove coast-to-coast and finished a three-point play through contact at the buzzer to give Missouri State a 35-32 halftime lead. She added a timely 3-pointer after a miss from UNI’s Karli Rucker with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter for a pivotal six-point swing that pushed the Bears’ lead to 13 en route to victory.

“We knew it was going to be a very tough environment (at UNI),” said Calip, who matched lead scorer Alexa Willard with a game-high 13 points. “They’re undefeated at home. They always play hard and they’re very disciplined.

“The first half we didn’t match their energy and their effort. That definitely stuck out. We talked as a team at halftime about needing to get a feel for our own energy to get our defense going, and offense will feed off the defense. Just really turning it up, getting everyone involved for the second half really gave us this victory.”

Rucker led UNI 13 points and four assists. Cynthia Wolf added 10 points and six rebounds.

UNI counterpunched Missouri State’s runs through the better part of three quarters before the Bears finally pulled away for good.

Rucker facilitated the first jab with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer followed by a traditional three-point play off a drive and an assist to Heidi Hillyard during an 8-0 run after Missouri State knocked down its first four shots and opened with a 9-4 lead.

The Bears the closed the first quarter on an 8-1 run to take a 17-13 lead, and added a 6-0 burst after UNI pulled within one to induce a timeout from Warren.

Rucker responded for the Panthers out of the break with a layup off a hesitation-and-go drive before finding Cynthia Wolf in the post for a layup. Wolf then hit a game-tying 3-pointer at the top of the key, and UNI took the lead, 30-28, after all five Panthers touched the ball on a possession that swung over to Rose Simon-Ressler for three.

“We’ve always talked about having the depth and everybody being able to contribute,” Wolf said. “Not even as a second group, but just as a continuation of the first group, coming out and knocking down a big shot. It’s not just a rest for the first group, it’s more like we’re coming in and we’re going to give as much as we’ve got.”

After Missouri State regrouped and took the halftime lead on Calip’s drive, UNI’s Nicole Kroeger opened the second half with a 3-pointer that tied the game. The Bears answered with a 9-0 run during a string of seven consecutive Panther misses.

Wolf and her former Cedar Falls prep classmate Kam Finley responded with 3-pointers to cut that deficit back to three, but that was as close as UNI would get. Missouri State pushed its lead to 11 with an 8-0 run from the end of the third through the start of the fourth quarter and maintained separation.

“In the first half on offense and I thought we moved the ball pretty well,” Rucker said. “We knocked down some big shots and then I thought when they made a run, we made a run right back.

“Then in the second half it kind of switched and we didn’t quite punch back like we did in the first half, and I think a big part of it is defensive. We didn’t get rebounds and then that led to them getting second-chance opportunities, and they finished on those.”

UNI will look to begin another home win streak against Southern Illinois (13-8, 5-5) at 2 p.m. on Sunday inside the McLeod Center.

“You never want to get swept anytime, especially at home, so I think just being able to bounce back and show fight (is important),” Rucker noted.

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