TERRE HAUTE —
The most exciting player in a Sycamore basketball uniform is a point guard with a fantastic crossover dribble, excellent court vision, a knack for getting to the basket and very active hands defensively.
Jake Odum? Sure, he’s pretty exciting to watch, but so is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir.
The ISU point guard has helped the Sycamores start 6-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference and is a big reason the Sycamores share the MVC pole position with Wichita State.
The Sycamores and Shockers will break the tie at the top of the MVC at 7 p.m. today in Hulman Center. Abdul-Qaadir will be a big part of the show.
“She’s our motor,” ISU senior guard Anna Munn said. “She’s our go-to person that we listen to on the floor. She’s a great leader offensively and defensively.”
The senior transfer from Memphis has come into her own in MVC play. After showing flashes of greatness along with inconsistency in ISU’s halting 5-6 nonconference start, Abdul-Qaadir has honed her talents in conference play.
She averages 13.6 points, 3.8 assists and 2.2 steals overall, but in MVC games, she’s raised those averages to 16.5 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals.
Her production is up and she does it with a flair that’s easy to like. Against Missouri State on Saturday, Abdul-Qaadir completely frustrated Missouri State guard Tyonna Snow, who had five turnovers. Abdul-Qaadir’s four steals were the catalyst for an abysmal 4-to-24 assist-to-turnover ratio for the Bears.
“When ‘Qisy’ is up in the ball like that it gives everyone energy. We’re able to get out in the passing lanes because the point guard doesn’t have the right angle to pass the ball,” Munn said.
But it’s more than just turnovers. ISU coach Teri Moren and her staff have stressed to Abdul-Qaadir to be a better all-around defender. Moren said she’s seen progress in that regard.
“She’s a kid that’s wise. She’s a fifth-year senior that’s taken it to heart that she has to be a better defender for her team,” said Moren, who said she thought Abdul-Qaadir had relaxed on the defensive end to conserve energy for her offense.
“She’s bought in, and that’s hard when you’re new and you have one year left. She knows she can’t relax on that end for our system to work,” Moren added.
In transition, Abdul-Qaadir can be electrifying. She can, and will, toss a behind-the-back pass, sometimes whether her teammate is ready or not. Abdul-Qaadir attacks the basket with abandon and gets to the line regularly. She converts 81.4 percent of her free throws, which makes her even more dangerous.
“I’ve been attacking the basket, and in the early part of my college career, I lost that part of my game,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “The coaches here tell me, ‘Qisy, you can attack the basket and go.’ I want to be aggressive and get to the line.”
She can change the game on her own and speeds opponents up in a way that favors the style Moren wants the Sycamores to play. Her panache can have an uplifting effect on her teammates as her exciting style gets the Sycamores amped up.
“They all like her because she’s so likable, a good leader and she’s so unselfish,” Moren said. “They know there’s a dynamic motor inside that 5-foot-5 body of hers. Sometimes she gets a little too dynamic and turns it over, but I think the kids love playing with her and love the up-tempo style.”
Abdul-Qaadir’s excellence comes as no surprise. The Springfield, Mass., native is the all-time leading scorer in Massachusetts high school basketball history in either gender. She scored 3,070 career points and averaged an incredible 42 points per game during her senior season at New Leadership Charter School.
Abdul-Qaadir, who plays with her arms, legs and head covered in accordance with her Muslim faith, played at Memphis from 2009-13. She tore her ACL during her freshman campaign and played three seasons for the Tigers, averaging 10.6 points during her junior season of eligibility. She graduated from Memphis last summer, but had a year of eligibility left and decided to play her last season at ISU. Per NCAA rules, Abdul-Qaadir didn’t have to sit out a season, as she had already graduated.
Though Abdul-Qaadir didn’t have to sit out, she also didn’t get a year to blend with her teammates as most transfers do, so it took time to get into game rhythm and to learn how to play with and off her teammates.
And how to be a leader.
“When I first came in, I didn’t want to come in and step on anyone’s toes, but Munn and the coaches told me that they needed me to help and to provide another voice on the team. That gave me the comfort level to express myself when I need to, motivate when I need to, and get on people when they’re not playing their best. I’m glad I can help out,” Abdul-Qaadir said.
“You have to be comfortable with yourself before you can help someone else out. I think it took a while for all of us to hear each other, but now that we’re comfortable with each other, we can laugh it off and everything stays on the court,” Abdul-Qaadir added.
Her teammates find her brand of leadership infectious and they’ve responded to her.
“In the huddle, she’s always talking and motivating us,” ISU center Racheal Mahan said. “She’s telling us what we need to do better. That’s good off on the court. When you have someone who’s telling, ‘Yeah you’re doing this good, but you need to work on this.’ When it’s done in a positive way, it helps a lot.”
So is Abdul-Qaadir the most exciting player in a Sycamore uniform?
“I would say so,” Munn said. “She doesn’t like to hear that, but her mentality and her drive to be the best person on the floor just drives us a team.”
n WSU tonight — As it is on the men’s side of the MVC, the Shockers and Sycamores have broken from the MVC pack. Both are unbeaten in MVC play. While ISU defeated Missouri State 74-57 on Saturday, WSU beat Illinois State by an almost identical score of 74-58 in Normal, Ill.
In conference play, the statistics tell the tale. WSU is the league’s best offensive team at 80.8 points. ISU (11-6, 6-0) is the stingiest defense in the MVC having given up just 54.2 points.
WSU (15-2, 6-0) is the defending MVC regular season co-champion (along with departed Creighton). Moren knows this is a chance for the Sycamores — who were preseason MVC favorites — to see how they measure up.
“We have an opportunity to put our best foot forward. We want to see where we’re at defensively and see if we can withstand their defensive pressure and score,” Moren said. “We have to match their toughness. They’re the champions. We want something they have. It’s going to set up for a good 40 minutes of basketball.”
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Unified defense: Indiana State's Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir — nicknamed “Qisy” — guards Missouri State's Tyonna Snow in Saturday’s game at Hulman Center, as teammate Rhagen Smith guards another Missouri State opponent. Wichita State comes to ISU tonight for a matchup of league leaders.