Valparaiso (3-12, 1-6 MVC)
Game #16 - Jan. 21, 2023 - 6 p.m.
at Drake (10-5, 5-2 MVC)
Knapp Center (7,152) - Des Moines, Iowa
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: The Valpo women’s basketball team closes out its annual swing through the state of Iowa on Saturday afternoon at Drake. The Beacons are in search of their third consecutive win over the Bulldogs.
Previously: Valpo entered Thursday night’s game in Cedar Falls, Iowa looking to knock off an MVC co-leader for the second straight game, but host UNI had other thoughts, as the Panthers earned an 89-58 victory over the Beacons. Olivia Brown led Valpo with an efficient 13 points, while Ali Saunders added 12 points off the bench.
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Head Coach Mary Evans: Mary Evans is in her fifth year at the helm of the program in 2022-23 and owns a record of 51-80. Evans has made an impact on the program in her first four years, raising the team’s level of play to be competitive in a strong Missouri Valley Conference. Evans’ preferred style of play has been a big part of the program’s turnaround, as Valpo has led the MVC in 3-pointers made per game in each of the last three seasons and in steals per game in two of the last three years.
Series Notes: Drake had captured each of the first 13 meetings in the all-time series against Valpo, but the Beacons turned the tables on the Bulldogs last season with a season sweep of the series. Valpo earned its first win over Drake at the ARC, 71-61, behind 21 points on seven 3-pointers from Caitlin Morrison and 10 assists by Shay Frederick. The Beacons then turned around later in the season in Des Moines and knocked off Drake at home, highlighted by a 20-point, 11-rebound, 6-steal effort by Grace White and 15 points from Carie Weinman. That continued the trend of closer games recently in the series - the Bulldogs’ average margin of victory was 31.9 points in the first seven matchups since Valpo joined the MVC, but in the last six meetings, Drake has outscored Valpo by just 13 points combined.
- Valpo was picked to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason poll, totaling 197 points, just 10 points behind Evansville.
- Valpo is in its sixth season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley was ranked 10th in conference NET last year, was ranked seventh nationally in conference NET in 2020-21 and was eighth nationally in conference RPI in 2019-20.
...looking back at last year
- Valpo finished last year with an 11-19 overall record, but was strong in MVC play, going 9-9 in conference and finishing in sixth place - both of which match the program’s best since joining the Valley.
- The Beacons registered the first win at Drake and the first win at Bradley in program history.
- Valpo swept the season series over Drake, the program’s first two wins ever against the Bulldogs.
- The Beacons also tallied four top-100 wins within Valley play.
- Grace White was named MVC Sixth Player of the Year - the program’s first major postseason award since joining the Valley. Shay Frederick was a First Team All-MVC choice, while White was an All-Defensive Team selection and Olivia Brown earned a spot on the All-Newcomer Team.
- UNI opened the game with a 10-2 lead. Valpo closed to within 12-11, but the Panthers closed the first quarter on a 12-0 run to lead 24-11 at the end of the period.
- Valpo was within 30-18 with seven minutes to play in the opening half. That was as close as Valpo would get in the second quarter, however, as UNI led 44-28 at intermission.
- Valpo’s chances of mounting a comeback took a hit to start the third quarter when the Panthers opened the period on a 10-3 run to push their lead to 54-31. The Beacons were unable to get any closer than the halftime margin, as UNI led 68-45 with 10 minutes to play and extended its lead in the final quarter.
- Valpo surrendered 89 points to the Panthers after giving up fewer than 70 points in each of its last five games. The 89 points allowed, 53.6% FG% (30-of-56) and 10 3-pointers made were each the second-most by a Valpo opponent this year, trailing only the Beacons’ loss to Bowling Green.
- The Beacons shot 42.2% (19-of-45) for the game and hit at a 42.1% (8-of-19) clip from the 3-point line, their best shooting percentage of the year from deep.
- Turnovers were the big difference in the ballgame, as Valpo committed 22 miscues, 12 of which were UNI steals, while the Panthers turned the ball over just 12 times. UNI held a massive 31-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
- Olivia Brown led the Valpo offense with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, knocking down a pair of triples and handing out three assists.
...versus Missouri State
- The Lady Bears led by as many as eight in the first half and held a 39-35 advantage at intermission.
- Five early points from Ilysse Pitts in the third quarter gave Valpo a 42-41 lead, its first lead since the early minutes. The Beacons would not trail again in the third and led 58-56 with 10 minutes to play.
- Olivia Brown converted at the rim on Valpo’s first possession of the fourth quarter to make it a four-point lead, but the Lady Bears scored six straight points to jump back in front, 62-60 with 8:24 to play.
- The Beacons answered with a key 10-2 run over a four-minute stretch to give them control. A 3-pointer by Pitts with 7:19 remaining gave Valpo the lead for good.
- The run was capped in a highlight-reel end-to-end sequence. Pitts blocked a 3-point attempt by MSU’s Paige Rocca with the shot clock running down, secured the loose ball and broke out towards the rim. Her layup attempt was off the mark, but junior Leah Earnest trailed the break perfectly, leapt and put the rebound back in one motion, all while being fouled. When Earnest completed the 3-point play at the foul line, Valpo led 70-64 with 4:02 to play.
- A free throw for the Beacons extended the lead to seven points at 71-64 with under three minutes to play before the Lady Bears converted a pair at the stripe with 2:31 to go to make it 71-66. Valpo had empty offensive possessions on its next two trips, but forced MSU misses on the defensive end to keep the Lady Bears at bay.
- Pitts took care of business at the foul line down the stretch, hitting 6-of-8 at the stripe in the final minute, and Missouri State turned the ball over to the Beacons on each of its final three possessions.
- Pitts, who entered Saturday with a career best of 11 points, more than doubled that to lead all players with 24 points — 18 of which came in the second half. Playing in her 95th career game at Valpo, Pitts paced the squad in scoring for the first time.
- Valpo also got an efficient offensive performance from Earnest, who went 6-of-9 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe for 18 points to go with six rebounds. Earnest, who scored in double figures for the 11th time this year, set a career high with her six free throws made and also posted a career best with three steals.
- Rounding out a trio of Beacons who set a high water mark for output from the free throw line was Brown, who went 6-of-7 from the foul line as part of a 15-point effort — her eighth game in double figures this year. The senior also paced Valpo with four assists.
- The Beacons step out of Valley play briefly next on Wednesday, Jan. 25 to make up their postponed game at Wisconsin.
- Valpo then returns home to the ARC next weekend to host Illinois State (Jan. 27) and Bradley (Jan. 29).
...on the road
- Thursday’s game is the eighth of 14 true road games for Valpo this season and the fifth MVC road game.
- The Beacons are 1-6 so far this season on the road and posted a 5-11 record in true road games last season.
- Drake enters Saturday’s game with a 10-5 overall record and is 5-2 in MVC play, one game out of first place.
- The Bulldogs have won five of their last six games, the only defeat coming on a last-second shot at home to UNI.
- All four Drake players who have started every game this season score in double figures, led by Maggie Bair, who is averaging 16.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Connecting From Inside
- Valpo’s ability to hit shots from inside the arc has been a strong indicator of its success so far this season.
- In the Beacons’ victories, they have hit at a combined 56.4% clip from 2-point range and have been better than 50% in all three wins.
- Meanwhile, in its losses, Valpo has hit just 47% from 2-point range.
- The last two games have epitomized this, as the Beacons were 19-of-33 (57.6%) from inside in the win over Missouri State before going just 11-of-26 (42.3%) on 2-point shots on Thursday evening in the loss at UNI.
Improvement on the Glass
- This year’s Valpo team has been the best in terms of rebounding margin in the tenure of head coach Mary Evans, and the Beacons have been even better within conference play.
- In their eight nonconference games, the Beacons were a -5.6 in rebounding margin and surrendered 6.8 more offensive rebounds per game than they grabbed.
- Since the start of MVC play, Valpo has been just -1.7 in rebounding margin and has surrendered just 1.4 more offensive rebounds per game than it has tallied.
- The win over Missouri State was especially notable - Valpo enjoyed a 28-23 advantage on the glass, a +5 edge that came against a Missouri State team which outrebounded the Beacons by a combined 36 boards in last season’s two matchups, and which had enjoyed a double-figure rebounding advantage in each of its last four games.
- The Lady Bears’ 23 rebounds were their lowest total since Feb. 11, 2018.
- Valpo surrendered just five offensive rebounds to MSU, which totaled 40 offensive rebounds in last year’s two meetings. In fact, the Beacons ended up with seven offensive boards of their own and outscored MSU in second-chance points, 13-8.
Standout Performance From Pitts
- The story of Valpo’s win over Missouri State was the play of fifth-year point guard Ilysse Pitts. Pitts, who entered the game against the Lady Bears with a career best of 11 points, more than doubled that to lead all players with 24 points — 18 of which came in the second half. Playing in her 95th career game at Valpo, Pitts paced the squad in scoring for the first time.
- Pitts did so in efficient fashion, needing just 10 field goal attempts as she went 7-of-10 from the floor, knocked down both of her 3-point tries and was successful on 8-of-10 from the foul line.
- Not surprisingly, Pitts also set career bests for field goals made (7) and free throws made (8). In addition, she tied for game-high honors with seven rebounds to set a season high and tied her season best with three steals.
- Through seven Valley games, Pitts is averaging 6.7 points on 54.8% shooting and 4.9 rebounds per game.
- Valpo’s top four scorers are all racking up their points in efficient fashion this season.
- Two of the top four are hitting at better than a 50% clip from the field - Leah Earnest (11.2 ppg, 52.8% FG%) and Ilysse Pitts (6.4 ppg, 52.3% FG%).
- The other two of the top four scorers, while below 50% overall, are both above 40% from the 3-point line - Olivia Brown (12.3 ppg, 45.7% FG%, 44.0% 3PT%) and Ali Saunders (10.2 ppg, 47.1% FG%, 43.3% 3PT%).
- Per HerHoopStats.com, all four players are averaging between 1.17 and 1.26 points per scoring attempt (defined as a field goal attempt or free throw trip).
- Valpo’s loss to UIC last Wednesday on Josie Filer’s 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining was its second last-second defeat this season.
- The Beacons fell in overtime to UAB on Nov. 21 when the Blazers’ Maria Roters hit a layup with 3.3 seconds to play in the extra period.
- Prior to the UAB game, Valpo had not lost a game by a single possession since another heartbreaking defeat - a 74-73 loss to #25 Missouri State on Jan. 31, 2021 on three free throws with 0.8 seconds left.
- This year is the first time Valpo has lost multiple games on a last-second shot (inside the final five seconds) since 2010-11 - that year’s squad fell 69-67 at Evansville on a layup with 1.1 seconds remaining and 70-69 at Milwaukee on a jumper in the paint with 4.9 seconds to play.
Earnest Crashes the Boards
- Junior Leah Earnest has been one of the Valley’s most effective rebounders this season, averaging 8.0 rebounds/game.
- She has posted six double-figure rebounding performances this year - most recently a 10-board effort against Indiana State.
- Earnest now owns the top-two individual rebounding efforts in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure with 14 against EIU and 13 against UAB.
- Combining her scoring and rebounding, Earnest has registered five double-doubles after recording just one in her first two seasons combined.
- Earnest is the first player in program history to tally three double-doubles in the first four games of a season.
- Earnest already has more double-doubles this season than Valpo has posted as a team in any of the last three seasons. She is the first Valpo player with at least five double-doubles in a single campaign since Dani Franklin tallied five during the 2017-18 season.
Setting Career Bests
- Ilysse Pitts’ explosive performance against Missouri State was just the latest in a string of career-best performances on the offensive end from Valpo players this year.
- Remarkably, a pair of Valpo players have set career highs in the scoring column this season despite being scoreless at halftime of the respective games - Maya Dunson versus Indiana State (14) and Ava Interrante at Western Illinois (15).
- Also in that WIU game, junior Jayda Johnston raced past her previous high of six points just 2:05 into the second quarter on her way to a team-best 16 points.
- Nine of Valpo’s 11 players who have seen action this season have tied or set career bests for scoring - notably, three separate games have featured multiple Beacons hitting career highs.
- The season-opening win at Central Michigan featured career bests for Leah Earnest (20) and Katie Beyer (11), while Ali Saunders (32) and Olivia Sims (12) hit career highs in the overtime loss to UAB.
A New Rookie Standard
- Freshman Ali Saunders set a new mark for Valpo rookies as she scored 32 points against UAB.
- The previous freshman record is unknown, but there have now been 16 games in program history a Valpo player has scored 32 or more points, and none of the previous 15 came from a rookie.
- Saunders posted the highest-scoring game by any Valpo player since Dani Franklin dropped 33 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 3, 2016.
- Saunders was in double figures in the scoring column in each of the first four games of her collegiate career - the first Valpo freshman since Franklin in 2014-15 to do so.