CEDAR FALLS – It was a defensive battle for most of Friday night between the UNI women’s basketball team and the Loyola Ramblers, with the Panthers coming out on top 69-56.
In a game that saw birthdays, multiple double-figure outings, and a move up the Valley list for all-time conference wins, UNI grabbed their fourth straight conference win. The Panther win helped Head Coach Tanya Warren take sole possession of 3rd place for most Missouri Valley Conference wins. Warren’s 274th win passed former Illinois State Head Coach Jill Hutchinson for third place among MVC coaches. Sitting in second with 199 wins is former Southern Illinois Head Coach Cindy Scott.
“We defended extremely well today,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren. “We had to switch up our ball screen defense in the second half. I thought we adjusted well and we made them take some tough shots. You know they’re very good and we’re going to need to make adjustments. But I was very proud of how well we defended but more importantly, we rebounded the basketball extremely well, starting with miss birthday girl [Grace Boffeli] here.”
Using the momentum of their win Wednesday against Indiana State, the Panthers began their game against Loyola hot, scoring nine points in the first three and a half minutes. In those first few minutes forward Bre Gunnels led the way for UNI, winning the tipoff, getting a three-point shot, and a free throw to start the scoring. But the Ramblers kept it close, answering with a trey of their own while going on a five-point run. The Panthers would answer with a contested layup from guard Emerson Green that was quickly matched by Loyola’s Riley Blackwell. After a media timeout with four minutes and 30 seconds to go in the quarter, neither team scored for over three minutes until guard Karli Rucker hit a three-point jump shot to put UNI up by two. In the final 30 seconds of the first, Rambler Jala Johnson made a layup to tie the game at 14-14.
The Panthers would get a quick start in the second, as well as guard Nicole Kreoger, made a fast layup 15 seconds in to put UNI back on top. Forward Grace Boffeli would continue the scoring with a layup and getting the first basket in a birthday game performance. After Boffeli’s layup, it would be quiet on the score sheet for a minute 30 before the Ramblers would get their first points of the second quarter. Loyola guard Mya Chandler would be fouled on a second-chance shot to tie the game up at the line. Guard Kam Finley would get the lead back for the Panthers a minute later with a spin-around jump shot. Out of the second media timeout, the Ramblers would have their last lead of the game, getting five points in 30 seconds. After a Blackwell three, guard, Maya McDermott made a layup with hands in her face to put UNI back on top. The Panthers would close out the half on a 10-2 run to lead by six.
Despite the fast starts of the first two quarters, the beginning of the third was all Loyola. The Ramblers began the second half on a five-point run, putting them within one just a minute 20 into the quarter. UNI would respond with a brief four-point run to stretch the lead out to five. Two free throws for Loyola would bring the difference back down to three but the Panthers would respond with another run, this time going 4-0 over a minute. Coming out of the media timeout the Ramblers headed back to the line, making one of two shots. Green was able to grow the UNI lead up to eight with two free throws of her own. It would be another response of runs for Loyola, getting four points in under a minute. It’d end up being back and forth shots for the teams following the run until Finley went to the line off a floor foul thanks to the bonus. The Panthers would close out the third making four of four free throws to lead 47-39 heading into the final 10 minutes.
UNI would have their first double-digit lead of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter off a Rucker layup. The Panthers would get the lead out to 12 before Loyola cut it back down to single digits with a three-point jump shot to start a five-point run. The two teams would move to a period of trading shots for almost three minutes. Two free throws from Green at the halfway mark of the quarter would end the back and forth baskets and put UNI up by nine. The Panthers would get another brief run of four points before the Ramblers would find a basket from guard Sitori Tanin with just under four minutes to go. Green would again respond for UNI with a contested layup right under the basket. Loyola would get one more shot in at 1:23 before the Panthers closed out the game on a four-point run to win 69-56.
It would be a strong day on the floor for UNI as they made 25-57 (43.9%) shots but a bit of a struggle from three-point range at 3-17 (17.6%). The Panthers would be at their strongest on the free-throw line, making 16 of 18 (88.9%) shots with four players going 12 for 12 at the charity stripe.
Finley and Green led the team equally with 14 points apiece while Rucker was close behind with 13 of her own. While it was a balanced offensive attack for UNI it was all Boffeli on the rebounding side of the ball. The freshman forward had 18 rebounds, just one shy of a career-high. Also grabbing multiple boards for the Panthers were Gunnels with eight and center Cynthia Wolf with seven. Gunnels also had the most blocks for the Panthers with three through 28 minutes of play.
UNI gets another rest day before taking on the Valparaiso Beacons Sunday afternoon. The game will be the Panthers annual Pink Out game to support breast cancer research, treatment, and awareness. Head Coach Tanya Warren will donate $25 for every three-pointer made while team doctor Sharon Duclos will match Coach Warren’s donations. Doctor Duclos will also donate an additional $500 if the Panthers win. Team nurse Lanett Kane will donate $5 for every free throw that will be matched by Coach Warren. All funds raised during the game will go to the Fearless Jenny fundraiser. You can match or donate to the fundraiser here. Tipoff Sunday is set for 2 p.m. from the McLeod Center.