Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) scored 24 points, one off of her career high, and Valparaiso's defense forced 24 turnovers, as the Crusaders defeated Northern Iowa 62-48 at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Friday evening in the season opener for both schools.
Rietema scored 14 of Valpo's 26 first half points on 6-of-9 shooting as Valpo built a three-point halftime advantage. A 13-5 run midway through the second half broke the game open as the Crusaders won a season opener for the first time in six years. Valpo's last opening win came November 19, 1999 against Illinois-Chicago.
After a nip-and-tuck first ten minutes, Valparaiso took the lead for good with 8:52 remaining the opening stanza as Carrie Myers (Stickleyville, Va./Lee H.S.) hit a jumper to give the Brown and Gold a 16-14 lead. The lead grew to seven, 26-19, with just over a minute to play in the first half before the Panthers scored the final four points of the stanza.
Northern Iowa cut the lead to one on the first possession of the second half before back-to-back baskets by Tamra Braun (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) and Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) pushed the lead to five. UNI was withing 37-33 with 11:21 left when Valpo went on its run.
Braun scored twice, as did Rietema, and Myers hit a three-pointer, Valpo's lone triple of the game, to help push the lead to 50-38 with 6:14 remaining. The Crusaders never led by less than ten the rest of the way.
On her way to the game-high 24 points, Rietema shot 10-of-19 from the floor while also grabbing a career-high nine rebounds and registering a career-best six steals. Myers added nine points, as did Mayella Kuikhoven (Almelo, Netherlands/Saint Canisius H.S.) in just 15 minutes off of the bench. Braun added seven points and nine boards along with three blocks, giving her 101 for her career. The junior moved into second place all alone on Valpo's all-time blocked shots list and into tenth place in Mid-Continent Conference history in the category.
Valpo's defense deserves a great deal of credit in the victory, forcing the Panthers into the 24 turnovers that resulted in 26 Crusader points. The Brown and Gold also won the rebounding battle 32-29, including a 14-9 edge on the offensive glass. Valpo held a 36-18 advantage in the paint as well.
Cassie Hager led Northern Iowa (0-1) with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and had three blocks. Jessie Biggs also found double figures with 11 while Megan Keefe added nine off of the bench.
Valpo (1-0) will head out on the road to Peoria, Ill. on Monday evening for a 7 p.m. game against Bradley. The Braves opened their season on Friday as well, posting a 78-73 victory at home over Illinois-Chicago. The game can be heard live on WVUR (95.1-FM) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.