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.
• The perfect student-athlete — ISU’s Andrea Rademacher has a 4.0 grade-point average and has a job lined up with Campus Outreach, an organization in which she’ll have the opportunity to work with college students in becoming followers of Christianity.
Rademacher’s minutes have declined the past two seasons, but she’s maintained a positive attitude and been a good leader for the Sycamores. She will be recognized today as part of Senior Day festivities.
“Andrea is one of the finest human beings you’ll ever meet and get to coach,” Moren said. “She is a leader and that is simply by how she carries herself on and off the floor. She’s a true example of what a student-athlete should look like. She’s an example for our younger kids ... She’s going to be missed.”
Rademacher said she has enjoyed being a part of the program.
“College basketball isn’t easy. It’s definitely rewarding. There’s a lot of joy involved. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this program. I’m thankful for the support I’ve received personally from this community and just the team. It’s not like this [with around 2,000 fans in the Arena] when we go on the road. There’s hardly anyone in the gyms.
“I want to see girls in this program grow off the court and grow in their character. I want to impact them for the rest of their lives, knowing that basketball’s so temporary.”
• Laramie’s breakout game — Laramie was in the zone Friday night, and she’s averaging 11.9 points since moving into the starting lineup.
The O’Fallon, Mo., native was playing against a team with a former AAU teammate on it and against a coach that didn’t offer her a scholarship.
Moren expects more performances similar to Friday night the remainder of the season and the next three years.
“She’s talented, you know,” Moren said. “She’s far from being the player that we think she has potential of becoming. We’re hard on her every day. Our expectations are high. This is a kid that wants to be great, and she’s communicated that with us. And now it’s our job to hold her to that and remind her of that and continue to help her to get better. We need her. We also need Racheal. [Mahan] gets off to a slow start in the first half. If those two can show up on the same night, we’re a pretty good basketball team.”
• Rebounding for a victory — ISU’s victory Friday gave the Sycamores a rare season sweep of Missouri State, which has a young squad as well.
The Bears also have one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
MSU has three of the top four offensive rebounders in the league and getting some second-chance buckets helped the Bears take a six-point halftime lead Friday night.
ISU allowed only two second-chance points in the second half and won the rebounding battle by a 40-36 margin. Guard Natasha Zurek had seven boards — to go with her three assists and three steals — and had a couple big ones during big stops on the defensive end.
Moren praised the effort on the glass afterward.
“It’s huge. That’s one of the reasons we won at their place because we were able to outrebound them. Part of the challenge is we had to clean that up,” Moren said. “That always comes down to heart and hustle.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig.
Wichita State at Indiana State
Tipoff — 1:35 p.m., today in Hulman Center.
Broadcasts — TV: Fox Sports Midwest. Radio: WIBQ-FM (98.5).
Last time out — ISU defeated Missouri State on Friday 71-63. Wichita State lost on a last-second shot Thursday at Illinois State, 57-56.
Series — ISU leads 34-28.
Indiana State Sycamores (17-9, 9-6 MVC) — G Taylor Whitley (5-9, Sr., 10.5 ppg, 3.2 apg), G Anna Munn (5-10, Jr., 14.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Travecia Franklin (5-9, So., 3 ppg), F Racheal Mahan (6-1, So., 13.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and C Marina Laramie (6-2, Fr., 8.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) are the starters. G Kasey Johnson (5-8, So., 4 ppg, 2.7 rpg), G Natasha Zurek (5-9, So., 3 ppg), G Kalliste Haskins (5-7, Fr.), F Makenzi Reasor (6-2, Fr.) and F Andrea Rademacher (6-2, Jr.) could see action.
Coach — Teri Moren (178-114 in 10th season overall, 48-41 in third season at ISU).
Wichita State Shockers (19-9, 13-3 MVC) — G Jessica Diamond (5-7, Sr., 12 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg), G Jasmine Jones (6-7, Sr., 3.1 ppg, 1.3 spg), G Alex Harden (5-11, So., 10.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.7 apg), F Chynna Turner (6-0, Sr., 6.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and C Jazmien Gordon (6-2, Sr., 6.8 ppg, 4 rpg) are possible starters. C Kelsey Jacobs (6-2, So., 5.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Alie Decker (6-0, Fr., 6.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), and G Darice Fountaine (6-11, Sr., 6.2 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach —Jody Adams (111-78 in sixth season overall, 87-70 in fifth season at WSU).
Injuries — For ISU, G Jessica Valley (knee) is out for the season
Next — ISU will visit Northern Iowa on Thursday. Wichta State will conclude its regular-season on Saturday at Missouri State.
— Craig Pearson