With just two weekends left in conference play, the Southern Illinois Salukis, picked to finish seventh in the league in the preseason poll, have positioned themselves to win the MVC Regular-Season title, for the first time since 1989-90, before the Gateway/Valley merge. An SIU win on Friday night would guarantee a share of the title. In weekly honors, Antionette Wells of Wichita State and Megan Neuvirth of Creighton have earned this week's awards.
The Missouri Valley Conference television cameras will showcase women's basketball this coming Friday and Sunday as part of the Valley Wildcard Weekend on FSN Midwest, Fox College Sports and Comcast SportsNet. On Friday, February 23, Southern Illinois, will entertain Evansville at the SIU Arena in Carbondale, Ill., at 7:30 p.m. Central. The game, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, February 25, was moved to accommodate the league’s television package. On Sunday, February 25, Northern Iowa will visit Illinois State at Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill., in a 2 p.m. Central contest.
So Close Salukis
With a win over Creighton last Sunday, Southern Illinois secured a bye in the 2007 State Farm MVC Tournament as SIU improves to a league-best 13-2. If Illinois State falls at Bradley on Friday night and the Salukis earn their 14th MVC win over Evansville, SIU will win the MVC Regular-Season title outright. Southern Illinois can finish no worse than second in the Valley standings and with a win over the Aces, would earn at least a share of the regular-season title.
The last time the same school was champion in both MVC MBB and WBB -- 2001-02 (Creighton men shared the regular-season title with SIU, and the Creighton women won title outright). The only other time it happened was in 1989-90 (SIU was men’s outright champs and SIU women were co-champs in the regular season in the Gateway).
State Farm/Missouri Valley
Player of the Week
Antionette Wells, Wichita State
Sr., C, Kansas City
This week’s Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week is Antionette Wells of Wichita State. Wells averaged 22.3 points and 14.7 rebounds in three-straight double-double performances for the Shockers last week.
The Kansas City native connected on 71 percent of her shots, and nearly 90 percent of her free throws in a 17-for-19 effort at the stripe on the week. The center brought down an average of 14.7 rebounds per game, including a season-high 17 against Illinois State in the Shockers’ win on Monday night and 16 on the road at Bradley on Saturday.
Scoring her 1,000th career point on Monday night against the Redbirds, Wells poured in a career-high 27 points, a mark that lasted just a few days after scoring 30 against the Braves. Wells was 10-for-14 from the field against the Braves alone, and moved into 14th on the all-time scoring list with 1,041 career points with WSU’s first 30-point performance since Kim Evans poured in 33 against Drake in 1995.
Wells also brought down her 900th career rebound against the Braves, and moved into third on the all-time rebounding list at WSU, trailing just Angela Buckner and Jennifer Kaczka. Her defense was just as solid, as she led the squad with nine blocks last week, and also recorded four steals while averaging nearly 31 minutes per game. Wells’ three double-doubles boosted her league-leading total to 11 this season, giving her 29 for her career.
Newcomer of the Week
Megan Neuvirth, Creighton
Fr., F, West Point, Nebraska
Megan Neuvirth of Creighton is this week’s Newcomer of the Week, her third honor of the season.
Neuvirth, a redshirt freshman, recorded a double-double against Southern Illinois and approaching triple-double numbers in a win over Evansville.
Against the Purple Aces, the forward dished a career-high eight assists, the most by a Bluejay this year. She also scored nine points and had eight rebounds in the win, while playing just 24 minutes.
Then against the first-place Salukis, she recorded her second career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. She also led the team and had a career-high five steals in the hard-fought loss.
For the week she averaged a double-double, leading the team with 11.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. She also led the team with 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per contest, while adding a blocked shot and her first career three-point field goal make last week.
Braves Win Third Straight
Bradley posted wins over Missouri State (78-75) and Wichita State (88-77) to extend win three consecutive games for the first time this season. Prior to the current three-game win streak, the Braves had not won back-to-back games in 2006-07. Bradley will put its win streak on the line Friday when the Braves play host to I-74 rival Illinois State.
Secret to Their Success?
Senior guard Jen Brown has scored in double figures in each of last four games and six of the last seven contests and has been a big part of Bradley’s recent turnaround. Brown has scored in double figures 10 times this season and the Braves are 7-3 in those contest. During her career Bradley is 19-10 (.655) when Brown scores in double digits and 37-32 (.536) when she finishes with six or more points. The Braves struggle when Brown is held in check however, owning a 9-34 (.209) record over the last four years when Brown scores five or fewer points.
Playing with Fire
The Braves are used to close calls, having a total of 10 games decided by eight points or fewer this season. In fact seven of Bradley’s 11 victories on the year have been by eight points or less. Bradley’s 11-point victory against Wichita State snapped a streak of six consecutive games decided by eight points or less and was the longest streak of such games in school history. Bradley had five consecutive games decided seven points or fewer in 1994-95 but suffered a 10-point loss at Missouri State to end the streak. The Braves are 7-3 in games decided by eight points or less. The seven wins are the most since the 1996-97 squad went 7-6 in games decided by eight or fewer.
Neuvirth’s Nice Numbers
Megan Neuvirth has been impressive lately, helping the Bluejays recover from a slow start to get to a 7-7 league mark. The forward’s play over CU’s last eight games has been outstanding, as she leads the Bluejays in several catergories. The redshirt freshman is leading the team in scoring (12.8), rebounding (8.3), assists (3.4) and steals (2.8) over the Jays’ last eight games, while shooting 50 percent (45-90) from the field. On the season she leads the Jays with 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.
The Energizer Bluejay
Junior point guard Ally Thrall played every minute of Creighton’s two games last week to move her “complete game” total to nine this season (not including a 44-minute outing at UNI) and 22 times in her career. Last year she led the MVC with 38.5 minutes played per Valley contest, while she once again leads the MVC in minutes played this year (38.0 overall, 38.6 MVC). She has played at least 40 minutes in six of CU’s last eight games.
First-place SIU shot past the Bluejays on Sunday, in large part thanks to accurate shooting, especially from three-point range. The Salukis made 9-of-18 three-pointers to tie a CU opponent high from long range this year. SIU threatened becoming the first CU opponent since Wichita State (12) on March 3, 2001 to make at least 10 three-pointers in a game.
On The Road Again
Drake eyes its first road victories of the campaign as the Bulldogs travel to Wichita State and Missouri State.
Worth a Grand
Junior Brandy Dahir became the 18th 1,000-point scorer in Drake history when she connected on a jumper for her fifth and sixth points in a 57-55 setback to Evansville. Fellow junior Lindsay Whorton is now 59 points shy of joining Dahir as the 19th member on this list
Playing for Keeps
The Bulldogs have never finished a season without at road victory.
Should Make For Great TV
Life on the road for UE this year in MVC play has been anything but dull for the Purple Aces. That is because six of UE’s seven Valley road games this year have been decided in the final minute of play, with all six being decided by five points or less. In fact, five of UE’s seven Valley road games have been two-point decisions.
Close games are nothing new for UE at SIU Arena of late as well, as each of the last four games in the UE-SIU series played in Carbondale have been decided in the final minute of play. Add UE’s road dramatics this year to the traditional last-second finishes in the UE-SIU series, and it should make for great TV on Friday night.
One From 100
UE head coach Tricia Cullop will enter Friday night’s game at Southern Illinois needing just one more victory to reach 100 in her coaching career.
With one more victory this year, Cullop will become the fastest women’s basketball coach in UE history to reach the 100-victory barrier.
Join the Club
The Purple Aces went “clubbing” this week on the Creighton-Drake road trip, as various players reached career scoring milestones this past weekend. Junior guard Rebekah Parker led UE’s scoring milestone march, as she became the newest member of UE’s “900-Point Club” on Thursday at Creighton. Senior guard Ashli Senff also scored her 500th career point on Sunday at Drake, while sophomore guard Ashley Austin also scored her 200th career point over the weekend.
Junior guard Courtney Felke (nine points) and sophomore forward Shannon Novosel (four points) are also rapidly closing in on UE’s “600-Point” and “300-Point” clubs, respectively.
Setbacks Anything but Normal
Illinois State’s 76-66 loss to visiting Indiana State Sunday was the Redbirds’ second consecutive setback in Missouri Valley Conference play, marking the first time this season that ISU has dropped two straight on the league slate. In fact, it has been exactly one calendar year since the `Birds have lost back-to-back league tilts, dating back to Feb. 17 and Feb. 19, 2006, when ISU suffered setbacks at Wichita State and Missouri State, respectively.
McCracken Climbing 3-Pt Charts
Senior guard Megan McCracken broke out of her three-point shooting slump by hitting three treys against upstart Indiana State Sunday. McCracken, who has 128 career three-pointers, is now just one away from moving into third-place all-time on the career three-point shooting charts at ISU. Prior to Sunday’s game, McCracken had converted just two of her previous 24 attempts from beyond the arc.
Illinois State, the league leader in rebounding offense, rebounding margin and defensive rebounds, was on the short end of the rebounding total against both Wichita State and Indiana State last week, marking the first two times the `Birds have been out-rebounded in league MVC play. The last time ISU was out-rebounded in back-to-back contests was Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, 2006 at Iowa State and UW-Green Bay, respectively.
Good Road Trip
Indiana State’s recent three-game road swing sweep of Missouri State, Wichita State and Illinois State was the first time the Sycamores have won three consecutive road games since a stretch during last season’s championship run when they won at Drake, Creighton and Illinois State for their eighth, ninth and tenth conference victories en route to a school record 16-2 MVC record. Of ISU’s eight victories in conference play this season, four have come at home (out of seven attempts) and four have come on the road (out of seven attempts).
Rebounding Part II
The Sycamores have out-rebounded each of their last three opponents (Missouri State, Wichita State, and Illinois State) and have posted over 40 rebounds in each of those efforts. In fact, since beginning the second round of MVC play, the Sycamores have out-rebounded their opponents by nearly three caroms per game.
In Good Company
Indiana State currently stands fifth place in the league standings, however they are tied in the loss column with both Evansville and Northern Iowa with six MVC defeats. With Sunday’s 76-66 victory at Redbird Arena, ISU is the only team in the Valley to own a victory over both the league-leading Southern Illinois Salukis and second place Redbirds. ISU downed SIU at home by a score of 74-69 on February 2.
Missouri State has been outrebounded 340-259 during its eight-game losing streak, or an average of 10.1 boards per contest. Furthermore, after posting a +0.4 rebounding margin during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Lady Bears have been outrebounded by a 561-474 margin, an average of -6.2 boards per game, during MVC play. Junior forward Tiff Terwelp, MSU’s leading rebounder, has seen her rebounding average dip from 12.6 to 8.8 rpg. since the beginning of the conference season.
On The Road Again
Since snapping a seven-game road losing streak with an 83-76 win over Indiana State in Terre Haute on Jan. 11, the Lady Bears have dropped their last six contests on the road. Over the last two seasons, Missouri State has won just two true road games and only four of its 25 games away from Hammons Student Center.
Eight is Enough
With its 90-72 loss at UNI on Saturday, Missouri State dropped its eighth-consecutive game, which represents the third-longest losing streak in the history of the program. The Lady Bears have lost 10 in-a-row on two separate occasions- first, during the 1979-80 (Dec. 8-Jan. 14) season and again in 1985-86 (Nov. 30-Jan. 9).
Keeping It Close
Eleven of UNI’s last 14 games have been decided by six or fewer points. The Panthers’ first four MVC losses came by a total of 11 points, and the Panthers had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the final seconds in three of those. The Panthers have won two MVC games by just three points, and they earned a six-point overtime win over Creighton on Feb. 3.
Saturday was senior day for UNI, but it was junior Traci Ollendieck who stole the show. Ollendieck was 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) from three-point range while tallying a career-high 26 points against Missouri State. Ollendieck also finished with nine rebounds and three steals for the Panthers on the way to the UNI win.
On The Road Again
The Panthers will round out the regular season playing its final three games on the road. UNI is 5-6 on the road this season, and 3-3 in conference road games. On Thursday the Panthers will look to win their first game at Indiana State since 2000. The Panthers have lost their last five trips to Terre Haute, with the last win coming on Dec. 20, 2000. History has been kinder to the Panthers at Redbird Arena, where UNI has won six of its last eight visits.
SIU wrapped up conference play on the road, 8-1, the team’s best showing in MVC history. The Salukis fell at Indiana State on the road Feb. 2 for their only road blemish in league play. The Salukis are 8-1 on the road this season in conference play, sweeping three road swings for the first time in MVC history. Southern swept two Gateway Conference road trips in 1989-90.
With a wins over Drake Friday and Creighton Sunday, SIU swept its third and fourth MVC teams this season. Last weekend The Salukis wrapped up league sweeps of UNI and Bradley. This marks the first time since 1996 that SIU swept three league opponents. That season the Dawgs swept five teams (CU, DU, INS, UNI, WSU).
SIU snuck into the week 15 national polls, receiving one vote in the USA Today Poll. They are tied for 37th along with Florida State, Liberty, LIU Brooklyn, N.C. State and Old Dominion, all with one vote.
One More Time
Wichita State will need to score at least one win at home this weekend to secure a .500 record or better at home for a second-straight season. WSU is 8-7 at home this season after going 12-3 there last year. The Shockers are 3-2 in their last five games inside Charles Koch Arena.
No Joke at Koch
WSU is a combined 25-19 against Drake and Creighton in Wichita, much better than the combined 34-9 mark the Bulldogs and Bluejays own over the Shockers on their respective home floors. While the Shockers have not swept a Creighton-Drake homestand since 2003, they have swept the homestand a total of seven times since 1993.
Shot in the Dark
The Shockers gave themselves a chance to win Saturday night’s game at Bradley by shooting better than 50 percent on the night, despite falling short at the end. The last time Wichita State shot 50 percent in a game and lost the Shockers shot 56 percent and fell at home to Evansville in 2005.