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Women’s College Basketball: UNI defeats Illinois-Chicago, 73-57, to move to semifinal game in conference tournament

MOLINE, Ill. – The Panthers outlasted the UIC Flames on Friday night to advance to the semifinal round of Hoops in the Heartland in a 73-57 win.

MOLINE, Ill. – The Panthers outlasted the UIC Flames on Friday night to advance to the semifinal round of Hoops in the Heartland in a 73-57 win.

It was another all-around team win for UNI as four players put up double-figures in its third win over UIC in 2023. Along with getting contributions from up and down the bench, the Panthers clicked on offense and defense. UNI’s performance against the Flames in the postseason was one of their top five in both blocks and steals at 6 and 12.

“First of all, I’d like to say congratulations to UIC,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren following the victory. “I think their coaching staff has done a terrific job. I thought they played extremely well. And for me, I thought it was one of the gustier performances I’ve been a part of.

“I thought our kids did a terrific job, especially staying true to our game plan over a 40-minute span. But you have to tip your hat off to UIC, I thought they played a very very good basketball game.”

It was a fast start for the Panthers as they jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first two minutes. UNI then traded buckets with the Flames for most of the quarter until UIC went on an eight-point run to almost end the first. The Panthers at the last points of the first 10 minutes as guard Kayba Laube made two at the line, getting UNI back within three going into the second quarter.

The second frame’s pace was much slower with multiple minute-plus scoreless stretches. But the Panthers put together a five-point run in the first minute and a half to retake the lead. The Flames responded with a three to go up by one.

Forward Grace Boffeli made a hook shot less than 20 seconds later to grab the lead back for UNI for good. The bucket sparked a 10-point run for the Panthers to grab a nine-point lead. UIC chipped away at the lead in the final two minutes with two threes but UNI still led by five at the end of the first half.

It was a tight third quarter as the two teams battled it out going shot-for-shot. The Panthers had the first run of the third, putting together seven straight thanks to a Rachael Heittola second-chance three-pointer. With its first double-digit lead of the game, UNI went back and forth with the Flames until the end of the quarter. The Panthers still held an eight-point lead going into the final quarter.

An over two-minute cold stretch at the beginning of the fourth brought UNI’s lead down to only three. But the Panthers found their offense right at the seven-minute mark, going 19-6 over the last half of the fourth quarter. Guard Cailyn Morgan led the way in the fourth for UNI with seven points, making two field goals, a trey, and two free throws. The Panthers came away with a 16-point victory, dousing the Flames 73-57.

UNI had their best night at the line since playing UIC in the McLeod Center in January going 18-20 (90%) at the free throw line. The Panthers also had a 50%+ night from the floor going 24-47 for 51.1%. Most of UNI’s points came in the paint with 32 while also making 19 off of turnovers. In non-offensive stats, the Panthers won the rebounding game at 32-30 while making 12 steals and blocking six shots.

Boffeli had another 20+ point game for UNI scoring 23 while also grabbing a team-leading eight rebounds. Guard Emerson Green was the next closest Panther on offense with 11 points, five rebounds, and two steals. Heittola and Morgan also had double-digit performances with 10 apiece while Heittola led the team in assists with three. Two Panthers made three steals in point guard Maya McDermott and forward Ryley Goebel while Boffeli picked up a season-high four blocks.

UNI moves into the semifinal round of Hoops in the Heartland where they will take on the second-seed Belmont Bruins. The Panthers lost both regular season games to Belmont and will hope to pick up their first program win against the Bruins in postseason action. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m. from Vibrant Arena at the MARK.

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