CEDAR FALLS – The Panthers fought off multiple Southern Illinois comeback attempts to grab their 20th win Thursday night, 85-76.
It was raining three’s in the McLeod Center in UNI’s 85-76 win over the Salukis. The Panthers made a season-high 61.1% of their shots behind the arc, making 11 of 18 treys. Along with a hot night from three, UNI committed a season-low 11 fouls letting the roster put up its 10th game at 80+ points.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and every time Southern went on a run, we answered,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren following the game. “That’s a very good team. They can score in a variety of ways. They’re extremely athletic.
“They have one of the best guards in the league. They have an outstanding post. They’re hard to guard, so you have to mix it up. You have to understand coming into this, they’re going to go on runs. You have to be able to squash it and go on your own. And I thought, for the most part, we did a terrific job of that.”
In her first start for the Panthers, forward/center Rachael Heittola made the first layup of the night. It would be the only basket for the next three minutes as both teams went scoreless. Southern Illinois tied the game up to break the scoring drought. UNI answered immediately as guard Kam Finley hit her first of three treys.
The three was followed by two more quick back-to-back baskets, including another three for the Panthers to go up by four. The teams continued to trade shots for the final five minutes of the first quarter. The Salukis took their first lead of the night with 45 seconds left. Point guard Maya McDermott had the quick answer with her second three of the game to have UNI up by two heading into the second.
It was a much faster start on offense in the second, as four baskets were made in the first minute. Another three from Finley set the Panthers off on an eight-point run for their first double-digit lead of the night and Southern Illinois’ first timeout. Out of the timeout, the Salukis hit a three, but guard Kayba Laube immediately answered with one of her own.
The three was UNI’s last basket over two minutes as Southern Illinois put together a nine-point run to make it a one-point game. Forward Grace Boffeli ended the run with a second-chance layup returning the game to a shot-for-shot affair. Back-to-back threes gave SIU its second lead, but a final second jumper from Finley tied the game up at the half break.
The Panthers hit the gas on offense at the top of the second half, making a 10-point run to return to a double-digit lead. The Salukis made a brief run of their own, that was quickly answered by UNI to get back to a 10-point lead. Much of the third was short runs traded between the Panthers and Southern Illinois. UNI’s lead was cut to as little as three with two thirty left in the quarter. A five-point run with the Panthers ninth three of the game had them up by eight going into the fourth.
The top of the fourth quarter was all Salukis as they brought UNI’s lead back down to three. Following a quick Panther timeout, UNI hit its final two treys and a jumper to put the lead back into double-digits. Southern Illinois answered with a five-point run that would be its final significant run of the night. It was a shot-for-shot game over the next three minutes until an Emerson Green and-1 put the Panthers out of reach. Three free throws for Boffeli and guard Cailyn Morgan ended the game helping UNI to the 85-76 win over the Salukis.
Along with their best three-point shooting of the season, the Panthers had an above-average night on the floor going 30-56 (53.6%) from field goal range. UNI shared the ball well with 16 assists, making 15 second-chance points and having the bench reach double-figures. The Panthers also excelled on the defensive side of the ball with 37 rebounds, six steals, and two blocks.
Boffeli led the team with her 13th double-double of the season at 21 points and 11 rebounds. It was also her seventh game of the season scoring 20 points or more. Finley had her best offensive game of the conference season with 17 points and also grabbing five rebounds. McDermott and Green also had double-digit nights as both scored 15. Six different UNI players had a steal each while Boffeli and Finley each picked up a block.
The Panthers end the regular season with their final game at home against the Missouri State Lady Bears. UNI will honor its two senior players and one senior manager on Saturday afternoon following the game. Tip-off from the McLeod Center is set for 2 p.m. against Missouri State.