Loyola’s women’s basketball team is finally beginning to see its hard work pay off in the second half of its conference schedule. The Ramblers won two games in a row, one against Evansville (70-58) on Feb. 6 and the other against Indiana State (61-50) on Feb. 8.
Both games were played at home, and redshirt sophomore forward Taylor Manuel partially credited the wins to the atmosphere in Gentile Arena.
“I felt myself playing [well], so I couldn’t help but get really, really excited. And the bench was crazy, everybody on the court, we just had so much energy,” said Manuel. “I think our fans were into it too. It was an amazing atmosphere to play in.”
Manuel played a huge part in Loyola’s success in the two games. In the win against Evansville, Manuel notched nine rebounds, three blocks, three steals, one assist and a career-high 29 points. In the game against ISU, Manuel scored seven points, eight rebounds and a career-high six blocks. She earned Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week award on Feb. 9 after the two-game winning streak.
Manuel is the first Rambler to win this award since Loyola’s move to the Missouri Valley Conference.
“It’s hard to have any type of consistency when you have players in and out and not ever know from day to day who’s going to practice [and] who’s not going to practice,” said Head Coach Sheryl Swoopes. “We’re finally getting to the point where we’re getting our players back and they’re healthy, so we’re able to put our team on the floor.”
Senior forward Simone Law, who has been out with injury since November, returned to the court against Illinois State and contributed a season-high 17 points.
“[Being back] felt great, like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” said Law. “My adrenaline was so high that game, but I felt really good. I was happy to be out there helping my team. Sitting on the bench was terrible … I try to work extremely hard at practice just so I can get out all that energy that was kept in while I was sitting out.”
Having Manuel and Law paired together again has helped the Ramblers tremendously. The team is now able to use Law as a threat in the high post while Manuel goes to work on the low block.
“Taylor Manuel and Simone [Law] in my opinion are two of the best post players in this conference,” Swoopes said. “And to be able to finally put them on the floor together definitely makes us a better team without a doubt.”
Opponents are no longer going to have the option to double or triple-team Manuel while sagging off other players with Law back in the mix. Teamwork has proved a key component in the recent success of the Ramblers.
“I feel like we’re jelling now, like we can tell the chemistry on the team is really starting to click and we’re talking more on the court, and it just seems like we’re having a lot of fun out there,” Law said. “We’re just in the right spots and now we’re not overthinking stuff; we’re just playing. So I think that’s a great thing.”
“Without a doubt we have so much work to continue to do, but I feel good about our chances going into the second half of conference,” Swoopes said.
One thing Swoopes stresses is being able to play a complete game offensively and defensively, which the team has struggled with in the past.
“I think they’re finally starting to buy into [playing a full 40 minutes] and believe that,” Swoopes said. “Somebody said to me, ‘All it takes is one win,’ and you get that confidence going and you get a little momentum.”
The Ramblers are hoping to carry their winning momentum into the second half of conference play. The team next faces Bradley University on Feb. 20 in Peoria, Illinois, at 7 p.m.