EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The UNI women’s basketball team is back on a Missouri Valley Conference win streak after a 73-68 win over the Evansville Purple Aces.
It was a second-half battle for the Panthers to grab a narrow win from the Aces at Meeks Family Fieldhouse. UNI jumped out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter but would be down in the final minute of the third after Evansville’s best three-point shooting of the year. The Panthers locked it down in the final minute and a half for the five-point victory.
“You have to give Evansville credit for how they played today,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren after the win. “We had a very emotional game against Drake earlier this week being able to get a win for the Nelson family. Having to turn around for an eight-hour bus ride the same week made this a difficult game physically and mentally for our team.”
“It was a great team win that really helped us grow today. We found a way to get a W when things weren’t going our way. I’m extremely proud of our resilience to grab the win.
It took a couple of minutes for UNI’s offense to get going, but the Panthers were up by five after four minutes of play. Evansville brought it within one, but a five-point run for UNI helped the Panthers take a nine-point lead into the second quarter.
UNI continued its hot shooting into the start of the second. Guard Emerson Green made two straight jump shots to give the Panthers a double-digit lead. UNI had its largest lead four minutes into the quarter as forward Ryley Goebel made a layup to put the Panthers up by 14. The Aces got UNI’s lead back down to eight with a six-point run midway through. The teams traded baskets until Evansville’s A’Niah Griffin had a three-point play to end the half and bring the Panther lead down to five.
The second half returned to a back-and-forth rhythm to begin. But midway through the third, the Aces had another six-point run to bring the game within one. UNI answered right after with a Taryn Wharton layup.
The offense went cold for both teams for two minutes until the Panthers got called for a foul to put Evansville within one. Green added an and-1 to make it a three-point game with a minute 30 on the clock. But a second chance jump shot and a last-minute three gave the Aces their first lead of the game at the end of the third. Forward Grace Boffeli would make a free throw to keep the game tied heading into the fourth.
Traded free throws began the final frame of the game as the Aces went up by two. But three straight baskets for Boffeli put UNI back up by one. It continued to be a back-and-forth battle, including matched threes with six minutes left.
Evansville maintained the upper hand until guard Maya McDermott made a trey as the clock got under five. Shots were traded again until Aces forward Abby Feit hit one of only two threes with 2:37 left to start a six-point run to give Evansville a four-point lead with two minutes left.
Having been in a familiar situation earlier this week, the Panthers dug in for the last 90 seconds to find the win. Guard Kayba Laube hit UNI’s last three of the game with 1:23 on the clock to put UNI up by one. It was the final lead change of the game as the Aces committed an offensive foul to give the Panthers the ball back. UNI closed out the game on a seven-point run to come away with a 73-68 win.
Four Panther starters ended the game in double-figures with Boffeli leading the charge getting 17 points through 31 minutes. Green, McDermott, and guard Kam Finley also hit the double-digit mark for UNI. With 10 rebounds, Boffeli picked up her second double-double of the week and seventh on the season. Center Cynthia Wolf had a team-high four steals while both Goebel and forward Rachael Heittola recorded a block.
The Panther defense continued to hold strong, recording a season-high 15 steals and winning the rebound game 33-25. On offense, UNI was 26-57 (45.6%) from the floor, 7-21 (33.3%) behind the arc, and 14-22 (63.6%) from the free throw line.
The Panthers return home for a two-game home stand against the MVC’s northernmost teams. UNI will welcome Valparaiso to the McLeod Center first on Thursday, Jan. 19 before facing UIC on Saturday. Thursday’s game against the Beacons is set for 6 p.m. from Cedar Falls.