Valparaiso never trailed Saturday afternoon on its way to its 20th victory of the season for just the fifth time in school history as the Crusaders defeated Southern Utah 60-45 in the quarterfinals of the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament at John Q. Hammons Arena in Tulsa, Okla.
With the victory, the Crusaders match their third highest victory total in school history improving to 20-10 on the year.
Valpo, the tournament's second seed, jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead only to have the Thunderbirds cut the Crusader advantage to one, 12-11, with 12:02 to play in the half.
The Crusaders defense clamped down, holding the Thunderbirds scoreless for more than eight minutes while going on a 14-0 run, keyed by three triples from Carrie Myers (Stickleyville, Va./Lee H.S.) to increase the lead to 26-11 at the four minute mark of the half.
Betsy Rietema's (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) eight-footer as the horn went off sent the Crusaders into the locker room with a 32-18 advantage.
Valpo got on the boards in the first half, especially offensively, holding a 27-14 edge. The Crusaders had 11 offensive rebounds, led by Rietema's five. Defensively, Valpo held Southern Utah to just 25.9% shooting in the opening 20 minutes of play.
A 13-0 run triggered by triples from Myers, Rietema, and Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) gave Valpo a 47-21 lead with 12:27 to play in the game.
Southern Utah cut into the Brown and Gold lead with a 12-2 run to close within 16, 51-35 with eight minutes to play, but Valpo would not allow the Thunderbirds to get any closer on their way to registering the victory and moving into the tournament semifinals for the fifth time in six years.
Myers led the Crusaders with 14 points, including 4-of-8 shooting from long range, while Kulaga added 13 points and four assists. For Kulaga, it was her highest scoring game since November 30. Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) added 11 points, scoring in double figures for the first time since late January.
Rietema and Tamra Braun (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) each grabbed a game high 12 rebounds for the Crusaders as Valpo outboarded Southern Utah 47-34.
Julie Stradling led Southern Utah (9-20) with 11 points while Cash Connors added nine points. As a team, the seventh-seeded Thunderbirds shot just 29.3% from the floor on the afternoon.
Valparaiso, winners of six in a row, its longest winning streak since the 2001-2002 season, will return to the court on Monday afternoon for its semifinal game against the winner of Sunday's quarterfinal between third-seeded Oral Roberts and number six seed UMKC. Valpo won both meetings against each school this season. Tip-off is set for 2:30 p.m. with all the action carried live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.