Valpo women’s basketball freshman Ali Saunders (Depauw, Ind./North Harrison) capped a record-setting night with a drive and score with just over eight seconds to play in overtime Monday at the ARC against UAB, setting the stage for a potential second extra period, but the Blazers raced the ball down and scored with 3.3 seconds to go, delivering a heartbreaking 83-81 defeat to the Beacons. Saunders’ final basket gave her 32 points on the night, a new program record for freshman scoring in a single game.
How It Happened
- Behind 10 points from Saunders, Valpo led by as many as seven points in the opening period and was up 24-20 at the end of the first 10 minutes.
- UAB pulled in front with 5:43 to play in the first half on a Denim DeShields 3-pointer, but the Beacons ended the half on a 13-3 run over the final five minutes — featuring five points from Saunders and four points from junior Jayda Johnston (Roseville, Minn./Roseville Area) — to take a 40-32 lead into the locker room.
- The Beacons’ lead reached its apex at 11 points just over two minutes into the third quarter, as sophomore Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) drilled a triple to give Valpo a 47-36 advantage.
- Valpo was limited to just one field goal the remainder of the period, but got to the foul line enough to enjoy a 55-48 lead with 10 minutes to play in regulation.
- The Beacons’ lead was nine points 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, and while UAB cut into the lead, Valpo was able to keep the Blazers at bay for most of the period. UAB moved to within one possession with 4:31 to play (59-57) and with 3:08 to play (63-60), but both times Valpo was able to respond and push the lead back to two possessions — the first on a triple by junior Ava Interrante (McHenry, Ill./McHenry) and the second on a driving layup by Saunders.
- A steal and fast-break layup for the Blazers made it a 66-64 game with just under a minute to play, and UAB then took advantage of a Valpo miss on the Beacons’ next trip, coming down and getting a basket at the rim from DeShields with 33 seconds to go to tie the score at 66-66.
- Valpo ran the shot clock down on its possession and then turned to junior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH), who deftly finished at the rim with 7.3 seconds to go to restore the two-point Beacon lead. But UAB called a timeout, advancing the ball, and got a layup of its own by Maria Roters with 2.8 seconds to play to send the game to overtime tied at 68.
- The start of overtime was all UAB, as the Blazers scored 10 points over their first five possessions — the last three on a triple by DeShields with 2:22 to play to push UAB’s lead to 78-71.
- Saunders remained aggressive, driving to the rim on Valpo’s next trip to make it a five-point game. Then, following a UAB miss, Earnest was able to finish inside to cut the Blazer lead to 78-75 with 1:31 to go in overtime.
- A baseline jumper with just over a minute to play restored the Blazers’ five-point edge before Saunders scored a third-chance bucket to move Valpo within three. UAB missed two free throws on its next trip, followed by another inside basket by Saunders, and then split a pair with 17 seconds to go to give the Beacons the ball in a two-point game, setting the stage for the final 10 seconds.
Inside the Game
- Saunders’ 32 points set a new standard for Valpo freshmen. 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 is one of only three D-I freshmen to score 32 or more points in a game this season, joining Minnesota’s Mara Braun and Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson.
- Saunders posted the highest-scoring game by any Valpo player since Dani Franklin dropped 33 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 3, 2016.
- Saunders tallied her 32 points Monday evening in efficient fashion, going 12-of-18 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and 6-of-7 from the foul line. She was just one point and one field goal shy of cracking Valpo’s single-game top-10 in the respective categories. Beyond her 10-point first quarter, the rookie dropped 11 points in overtime as well.
- Beyond her scoring prowess, Saunders set a season high with eight rebounds and dished out three assists as well.
- Three Valpo players scored in double figures on Monday night. Earnest reached the 10-point plateau for the fourth straight game to open the season, scoring 13 points while also grabbing 13 rebounds for her third double-double of the year.
- Paired up with her 14-rebound performance against Eastern Illinois, Earnest has registered the two best rebounding efforts of her career in Valpo’s last two games.
- Sims matched her career best with 12 points to round out the trio of Beacons in double figures in the scoring column.
- Johnston (6 points) and Interrante (5 points) both set career bests for scoring, while Johnston also set a new high with three rebounds, all of which came on the offensive end. Interrante came up with three steals on the defensive end as well.
- Redshirt freshman Ella Van Weelden (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Marion) set a season best as she came off the bench to grab seven rebounds.
- Valpo out-shot UAB on the evening, 47.5%-43.5%, but the Beacons hit just 6-of-21 from 3-point range.
- Valpo did out-rebound its opponent for the first time this year, besting the Blazers on the glass by a 44-36 margin, and out-scored UAB in the paint, 46-42.
Postgame Press Conference With Head Coach Mary Evans and Ali Saunders
Valpo (2-2) goes on the road for just the second time this season on Sunday afternoon when the Beacons make the trip to Evanston for a Big Ten battle at Northwestern at 2 p.m.