The Valparaiso University women’s basketball team made sure the season extended beyond Thursday’s first round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, putting in a wire-to-wire team effort to down Loyola 63-46 at the TaxSlayer Center. The victory allowed the Crusaders to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals, which will take place on Friday.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (13-17) held the Ramblers (7-23) scoreless for the first four minutes, inching out to a 5-0 lead behind a basket by Dani Franklin (Cedar Rapids, Iowa / George Washington) and a 3 by Meredith Hamlet (McBain, Mich. / McBain).
- Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) drained a 3 with 3:52 left in the first quarter, then found her way to the rim for a nifty layup on the next possession. That burst helped Valpo extend the lead to 10-4 at the 3:20 mark.
- After Loyola had pulled within three at 10-7, Nicole Konieczny (Granger, Ind. / South Bend Saint Joseph) accelerated to the rim and got a basket despite being fouled, then Hamlet laid it in as time expired to end the first quarter, allowing the Crusaders to own a 14-7 lead after one.
- The first quarter saw the Crusaders shoot 50 percent while holding Loyola to 27 percent. Both teams were hurt by turnovers – Loyola with eight and Valpo with six.
- After Loyola started the first quarter with a drought, Valpo did the same in the second. The Ramblers scored the first five points of the second quarter to make it 14-12. The Crusaders didn’t crack the scoreboard for the first 3:30 of the second, when Franklin knocked one down. That basket sparked a 7-0 spurt.
- By the time the buzzer sounded to end the first half, the Valpo lead was six at 27-21. The Crusaders played stifling defense throughout the first 20 minutes, limiting Loyola to 25 percent shooting. Loyola leading scorer Abby O’Connor was held to two points prior to the break. Franklin had nine points before halftime on 4-of-7 shooting.
- A 3-pointer by Konieczny rolled around the rim and bounced in early in the third – a friendly roll that allowed Valpo to claim its first double-figure lead of the game at 31-21.
- Hamlet recaptured some of her second-half magic from the first meeting with Loyola, hitting 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to give Valpo its largest edge at 41-29, forcing a Loyola timeout with 4:44 to go in the third.
- The Crusaders carried a 46-37 lead with them to the fourth quarter.
- A burst of Dani Franklin baskets helped the Crusaders open the lead to 15 early in the fourth, including a steal and layup at the 8:25 mark that made it 52-37.
- The Crusaders put the game out of reach by scoring the first 12 points of the fourth quarter on their way to nailing down the win.
Inside the Game
- Thursday’s victory marked the first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament triumph for Valpo in any sport.
- The Crusaders defeated Loyola for the third time this season, marking the first time Valpo notched three wins against one team in the same season since 2003-2004, when they picked up three wins over IUPUI, including a 53-52 victory in the 2004 Mid-Continent Conference Tournament.
- Valpo has won at least one league tournament game in six of the last seven seasons.
- Franklin played in her 97th consecutive game and her 120th overall on Thursday, moving into a four-way tie for third in program history in games played.
- Hamlet’s first-half 3-pointer was the 151st of her collegiate career, moving her into a tie for seventh in program history with Jamie Gutowski. Her first 3 of the second half allowed her to take over sole possession of seventh.
- Hamlet turned in 12 points, climbing into 18th on Valpo’s all-time scoring list. She passed Aimee Litka (2005-09) with Thursday’s effort.
- Franklin finished with a game-high 24 points, reaching double figures for the 22nd time in 30 games this season. She continued to climb Valpo’s single-season points list, moving into sixth in program history with Thursday’s output.
- O’Connor was limited to eight points on 1-of-13 shooting, the second straight meeting the Crusaders held Loyola’s top scorers in check.
Thoughts from Acting Head Coach Justin Rees
Thoughts on the Game: “It was a great defensive effort by us. It was a good job of executing what we’ve been talking about doing all week. We knew the first-round matchup early enough that we had plenty of time to prepare. We were fortunate to come away with a win with a fourth-quarter comeback the last time we played them, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t put ourselves in that situation again. Some of the turnovers that we forced helped us get our offense going early. It was important for us as coaches to get Dani and Meredith off to quick starts. We ran a couple plays right off the bat to get them good looks. I’m very proud of our effort.”
On Coach Dorow’s Medical Leave: “We’re all thinking about Coach Dorow and what she’s dealing with on a personal level, so that part is challenging. At the same time, it’s that time of year where the adrenaline of playing in a tournament takes over. The rest of our staff and team has come together, and I think that was indicative of how the girls played tonight. We played a better as a unit than we had in recent games. This is just another hurdle that we have had to overcome. Our challenge is to be here as long as possible and keep playing. That’s been our mentality the whole time.”
On Leading Wire to Wire: “We were able to get our top two scorers off to good starts, and we did a good job of frustrating their counterparts, not letting Loyola’s top scorers get hot early in the game. Both Dani and Meredith had early baskets. Once they are involved and engaged, the rest of our team follows suit. Nicole Konieczny played a great game for us tonight. Grace Hales hit some big buckets. We had great production off the bench. It was a true team effort.”
On Drake: “They’re great. They’ve won 40 straight conference games for a reason. We have to play better than we did last week against them. We were very poor in our defensive effort. Offensively, we did some of the things we wanted to do, but if you can’t slow down Drake or defend their transition, nobody is going to touch them, and that’s the way it’s been in conference most of the year. Our job as a staff tonight is to come up with a different game plan defensively. We want to see what we can do on the offensive end to extenuate the positives that we had last time. I’m guessing that it’s going to be a different game tomorrow. I think we’re going to be a lot more competitive. Our kids are feeling good, and I hope that it translates to the court against Drake.”
The Crusaders advance to play No. 1 Drake in the quarterfinals of Hoops in the Heartland. That game will begin at noon CT on Friday at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill. Scott Warman (play-by-play) and Laura Leonard (color commentary) will have the call on The Valley on ESPN3. The hometown radio call can be heard on 95.1 FM Valparaiso with Ben Ariano (play-by-play) and Renee’ Turpa (color commentary) and live stats are also available.