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March 16, 2013

No rally this time for ISU women

St. Charles, Mo. — Indiana State has been able to overcome some atrocious first halves during the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball season.  

For example, the Sycamores had just 19 points with 15 minutes remaining at Evansville, but they catapulted ahead with a 26-0 run to steal a road victory. ISU battled back from double-digit deficits two other times in MVC play, but the fifth-seeded Sycamores couldn’t finish their rally Friday in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals, falling to No. 4 seed Northern Iowa 71-60.

ISU let its deficit grow as large as 16 with nine minutes to go and UNI’s senior guard Jacqui Kalin, the MVC’s Jackie Stiles Player of the Year, wasn’t going to let her team collapse. Kalin drilled a 3-pointer with 31⁄2 minutes to go after Anna Munn’s jump shot cut the Panthers’ lead to four for the last time.

Kalin, a 95-percent free-throw shooter (159 of 167), then hit six free throws down the stretch to remove any hope of the Sycamore comeback.

“She’s a great player with a ton of experience under her belt. She’s obviously their go-to player and she finished the game out. Next year, that’s going to be Anna Munn [with the ball] in our case,” ISU guard Taylor Whitley said.

Whitley was aggressive in the first half, helping the Sycamores snap out of an early slumber to start the game. ISU was scoreless the first 6:30 of action until Whitley’s drive cut UNI’s lead to 7-2.

The only ISU senior who played big minutes this season, Whitley matched Kalin at halftime with six points, but the Panthers made an 8-0 run to end the half after ISU had pulled within two points.

The Sycamores’ post players had just two points at halftime, but Racheal Mahan had 15 in the second half to finish with a team-best 17 to go with nine rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

While Moren was happy to see Mahan and her teammates persevere, struggles during the beginning and end of the first half proved to cause ISU’s demise. The Sycamores lacked direction at times and took uncharacteristic bad shots in the first half as UNI face-guarded Munn and sagged in on the ISU post players.

The Panthers were also able to make plays for one another against ISU’s defense, getting assists on 18 of their 23 field goals.

“Looking back at the first half, I thought we pressed a little bit offensively,” ISU coach Teri Moren said. “Probably took a few ill-advised shots and didn’t do a great job, I didn’t think, defensively. It took us a good half to kind of settle in. I thought we did a much better job in the second half.”

Munn went 1 of 7 in the first half and recovered slightly to hit a couple big jumpers during ISU’s 14-2 second-half run. That run, capped by Mahan fighting through a double-team and Whitley driving for a layup, pulled the Sycamores within 50-46 with 5:41 to go. ISU forced six turnovers during that stretch, its most active at the defensive end.

“Our defense was kind of slow in the beginning,” Whitley said. “In the second half that’s what we needed to do. I think that’s what got us back into the game. It’s a shame we couldn’t finish it out.

“We learned a lot from this loss. Hopefully we have a couple more games left in us this season, but it’s a shame the [Missouri] Valley Tournament is over for us.”

Brooke Brown found herself open for a 3-pointer when an ISU defender helped toward Kalin to put her team up 54-46, putting a resounding end to ISU’s run.

In addition to that big 3-pointer, Brown spent much of the night frustrating Munn.

“Personally, I took some bad shots,” Munn said. “Everybody can say they took some bad shots that weren’t needed. It just came down to getting stops on defense and we kind of rushed things on offense when they were getting up in us and just didn’t take our time. I think that was the biggest key of the game.”

UNI senior forward Amber Kirschbaum, who posted a game-high 23 points, was also a big key to the game. She made 5 of 6 shots from the field — including several wide-open baseline jumpers — in the final 11 minutes of the game.  

Kalin ended up with 22, but with ISU’s focus on slowing her down, players like Kirschbaum found themselves wide open. Natasha Zurek played big minutes for the Sycamores, drawing praise from Moren for her defense on Kalin and chipping in 12 points.

“You get exposed when you do that. You’re completely locked into Kalin and then you’re playing 4 on 4,” Moren said. “If you’re not where you need to be defensively, whether that’s help-side or so locked into your player, you get beat on back cuts. Our idea was to be so locked in on her. And you don’t have rotation. You’re missing a piece out there.”

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