Loyola senior guard Tiara Wallace turned in career-highs in points and rebounds to lead the Loyola women’s basketball team (15-7, 6-5) to a convincing 77-45 victory over the University of Evansville at Gentile Arena Saturday afternoon.
Wallace went a scorching 10-for-13 from the field en route to a career-best 26 points. She also grabbed 13 rebounds, two more than her previous high of 11. Wallace also went 5-for-5 from the free throw line, one game after going 6-for-7 against Indiana State.
After Loyola’s loss against Valparaiso University Jan. 24, Loyola head coach Kate Achter specifically pointed to Wallace’s free throw shooting after she went 2-for-6 against Valparaiso. Wallace said free throw shooting has been an emphasis and she’s even stayed after practice to practice from the charity stripe.
“We practice free throws every day and then a lot of people who [are] not good with their percentages — including me — we stay after and shoot more free throws,” Wallace said. “So we’re just trying to get back on track with our free throw percentages.”
Junior forward Abby O’Connor also recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
After the game, Loyola head coach Kate Achter said Wallace’s performance was crucial to her team’s dominant performance.
“We don’t have this type of win without [her] effort,” Achter said. “The most impressive number on the stat sheet for her was six assists and no turnovers. … I don’t think we’ve ever had a game where [Wallace] has had that many assists and no turnovers.”
As a group, the Ramblers shot 46.9 percent from the field despite going 6-for-22 from the three-point line. They also committed 11 turnovers — nine of which came in the second half — after averaging 15.2 turnovers per contest coming in.
After going 0-3 on their recent road trip, the Ramblers bounced back to win two games by double digits this week at home. O’Connor said the group was focused on a “fresh start” as the calendar flipped to February after going 4-4 in January. The Ramblers ended December with a 9-2 record.
“Our January didn’t really go the way we wanted it to, so it’s been a big emphasis this whole week that we were going to start fresh in February and come out with a punch,” O’Connor said. “This is definitely a good punch for us to start the month off with.”
Of Loyola’s 77 points against Evansville, 29 came from the bench, including junior forward Kat Nolan’s 10 points. Achter said these types of games allow her to get her bench more minutes, which “pays dividends” in the long run because it allows the players on the bench to see time on the court outside of practice.
“It’s been a worry of mine as we move forward, are our bench kids getting enough minutes for us to maintain a high level as a program?” Achter said. “This is really important for things like that. … [It was] nice to be able to let them play through some things with a little bit of cushion on the scoreboard.”
Evansville entered the day 3-18 overall and 0-10 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play. The Purple Aces, who were picked to finish last out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll, shot just 35.7 percent from the field and 4-for-18 from outside the arc.
Loyola, meanwhile, already has two more wins this season than it did all of last year and is 6-5 in MVC play. Achter said she didn’t even realize they’d reached that amount of wins after the game against Indiana State Feb. 6, but acknowledged her team might’ve thought about it too much over the last month.
“If you … focus on .500 or positionings or that, you lose sight of what’s really important: getting our team better,” Achter said. “I think at times in January, that became too much of a focus for us. … It speaks to the investment of our players and how our program has grown, but that’s not what’s important to us right now.”
The Ramblers are set to go back on the road Feb. 14 when they take on Illinois State in Normal. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.