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March 3, 2013

TILL IT'S OVER: Whitley’s determination on display for ISU Senior Day

TERRE HAUTE — Taylor Whitley averaged 12.1 points, 4.7 assists and went on an offensive rampage two years ago in St. Charles, Mo., to earn All-Missouri Valley Conference Tournament accolades.

A knee injury caused her a major setback as a junior, but Whitley’s senior year seems to have gone just how she would like it to: with her in the background doing the dirty work for a team that ranks among the NCAA’s best in scoring defense. The Sycamores are allowing 53.7 points-per-game, which is the best in the program’s history by a wide margin.

It’s a team that plays harder consistently for 40 minutes than any I’ve watched in 10 years covering ISU women’s basketball.

It takes the entire team and a positive, communicative coaching staff to make that happen, but Whitley’s determination sets the tone day after day.

“I think tonight was a great way that she showed her leadership. She came out and was taking it hard to the basket every time,” ISU freshman Marina Laramie said following Friday night’s victory against Missouri State. “I just think that’s something special about her, she goes hard, 110 percent, all the time.”

Whitley is guiding a team that lost three 1,000 point scorers from a year ago, and the Sycamores are a couple more wins from the best conference finish since taking third place in 2006-07. With a win today, the Sycamores could knock Wichita State from first place, while also potentially securing no worse than fifth place in the standings.

“I definitely didn’t know what to expect coming into the season. We lost three big scorers, big players from last year in Brittany, Shannon and Deja,” Whitley said. “This team has worked really hard. I’m just really proud of how we’ve handled ourselves this year. We’ve played hard in every game, and our defense is what’s kept us in games.”

Whitley is among the MVC’s leaders in steals, while scoring 11.4 points, dishing 3.1 assists and hitting 81.5 percent at the free-throw line.

“Part of our success has been her maturity level and her ability to always be positive and lead this young team,” coach Teri Moren said. “Even on days when we’re in walkthroughs and supposed to be at 50 percent, the kid’s going 100 percent.”

Visiting coaches praise the Sycamores’ toughness when they visit Hulman Center in 2013, and Whitley’s play leads by example for ISU.

“I always just try to give my best, give 100 percent at all times. I love playing defense, and I think when you’re diving on the floor and playing aggressive, the team feeds off of that,” Whitley said. “That’s a big reason our team is aggressive, isn’t afraid to get on the floor and do the dirty work.’

The Sycamores have grown at the offensive end as well, hoping to continue to build confidence heading into a conference tournament with a chance to get the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth.

“We’ve been working hard on our motion and things like that. We have the tools to be successful on offense with our players in the post and Anna as our 3-point shooter, and Vecie [Franklin] and I as the drivers,” Whitley said.

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