CHICAGO, Illinois – The UNI women’s basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking loss on Sunday, handing the Loyola Ramblers their first home loss of the season, 58-54.
A defensive battle in the first half but an offensive thriller in the second half led to the Panthers first Missouri Valley win of the season on Sunday. In one of UNI’s closest overall games of the season, it was back and forth until the final moments. Senior guard Karli Rucker’s 7 free throws in the final frame sealed the deal for the Panthers.
“What a gutty performance [today],” said Head Coach Tanya Warren, “I’m so proud of this team. It’s been a long long hard emotional week for this team. You know it’s a long season and that’s one of the things that we’ve talked about. It’s a long season and there are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Is it a crummy hand that we’ve been dealt? It is but you know what, that’s life.
“We had some ladies step up in a major way. We gave one away the other night and I thought we stole one today and that’s what it’s all about. You want to be able to compete right away and we were able to do that. It was a gutsy performance by this team and I’m extremely proud of them.”
The first points of the game were scored by the Ramblers. But the Panthers would find the first trey of the game from guard Maya McDermott in the 4th minute of the first quarter. Guard Kayba Laube followed up with a three-pointer of her own a minute thirty later to give UNI their first lead of the game. The teams would trade baskets for the rest of the quarter as the Panthers headed into the second with a 12-10 lead.
In the second quarter, it was all senior forward Bre Gunnels. Gunnels scored all of UNI’s 9 points in the frame with four of those nine coming from the free-throw line. It was also the second game in a row for Gunnels where she made a three-point shot. This game, Gunnels trey would come in the first minute from the left side of the arc. Loyola would go on an 8-point run over 3 minutes to close out the half. The Panthers would trail by one 21-22 heading into halftime.
To begin the second half the Ramblers would continue their hot scoring with a 5-point run. But freshman center Grace Boffeli got UNI on the board in the 3rd minute with a layup. UNI would then go on their best run of the quarter, scoring 7 points in 2 minutes to cut Loyola’s lead down to just one. The teams would trade two-point baskets until Rucker gave UNI their first lead in almost 10 minutes with a fast-break layup. There would be 3 lead changes in the final minute of the quarter with the Panthers coming out on top heading into the last quarter.
It would be a back and forth battle in the final frame of the 40 minutes. Neither team would have more than a one-point lead until the 6th minute when the Ramblers went up by two. But UNI would get a trey from Laube in the corner to lead by one with under 4 to go. The Panthers would take their last lead of the game in the final minute when Rucker made her 3rd and 4th free throw of the quarter. Rucker would get 3 more points at the line to seal the win for the Panthers, 58-54.
As a team, UNI was 19-44 (43.2%) from the floor, 5-13 (38.5%) from three-point range, and 15-19 (78.9%) from the charity stripe. In both the second and the fourth quarters, the Panthers were at least 50% from behind the arc, making all of their 3-point shots in the second. Defensively UNI had 29 rebounds, 6 steals, and 2 blocks through 40 minutes.
Despite not scoring in the first half, Rucker led the Panthers offensively with 16 points through 2 quarters. Rucker was 4-15 (26.6%) shooting on the floor, 0-4 (0%) from 3-point range, and 8-10 (80%) from the free-throw line. Gunnels and Laube also scored in double digits with 13 and 11 points respectively.
Boffeli led UNI off the boards with 9 rebounds. Gunnels followed closely behind with 6 and sophomore Cailyn Morgan had 4. Rucker and junior Sara McCullough had the Panthers two blocks in the game.
The Panthers play their first game at home in over a month on Thursday. UNI will welcome the MVC-leading Missouri State Lady Bears to the McLeod Center on Jan. 13. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on Thursday.