Update: Loyola lost to Indiana State University 63-48 Jan. 1.
After going 2-2 in non-conference action, the Loyola women’s basketball team is scheduled to open Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play Jan. 1 and 2 against Indiana State University at Gentile Arena.
Coming into the year, this matchup was projected to be one of the closest in the MVC. Loyola was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll, while the Sycamores were tabbed to finish ninth. The two teams were separated by just four points — the lowest margin between any two teams in the poll.
Indiana State leads the all-time series with 11 wins against Loyola and six losses. However, the Ramblers have won the last four meetings between the schools, with all four games having been decided by 10 or fewer points.
While the Ramblers have had the edge in recent matchups, Indiana State comes into this season with considerably more experience. The Sycamores return 95.1 percent of their scoring from last year, meanwhile Loyola brings back 65.4 percent of last season’s scoring output.
At the time of publication, Indiana State has four players averaging in double figures, led by sophomore guard Del’Janae Williams’ 12 points per game. Loyola comes into the series with three players having double-digit scoring averages. Junior forward Allison Day leads the Ramblers with 13 points per contest.
The Sycamores rank third in the MVC in rebounding margin, grabbing 7.8 more rebounds than their opponent per game. The Ramblers are one spot behind Indiana State, outrebounding opponents by 7.5 boards per game.
The two teams will face-off on back-to-back days after the MVC altered its scheduling to limit travel and potential exposure to COVID-19. In a normal year, teams would typically play on Friday and Sunday. Either both games would be at home or they would be against two road opponents that are located close to each other.
This year, the games will be on consecutive days and against the same opponent. On a MVC women’s basketball teleconference Dec. 29, Loyola head coach Kate Achter said she thinks this opens the door for a lot of potential changes in coaching strategy.
Among these strategies, Achter emphasized that resting players will be more important this year and zone defense could be a way to expend less energy. Most teams typically play man-to-man defense, which involves each player guarding an individual opponent no matter where they are on the court. Zone defense involves a player defending a specific area on the court and guarding any opposing player that comes into that zone.
“Certainly you’re going to see more zone [defense],” Achter said. “Typically, we haven’t been a zone team, but it’s something that we’ve talked about because again it’s unrealistic to ride seven players back-to-back days and expect different results. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a different set of offensive strategies [between the two games].”
The Sycamores come into the game with a 3-2 record this season but haven’t played since a seven-point loss to Xavier University Dec. 14. Indiana State is 1-2 on the road this season, with its lone victory coming against the University of Detroit Mercy Nov. 29. Loyola is 1-1 at home this season.
On the teleconference, Sycamore head coach Vicki Hall said she thought her squad showed improvement over the course of the five-game non-conference schedule.
“I thought going on the road and being able to win with a short bench [against Detroit Mercy] helped us a lot and is building the confidence that we needed after a tough year last year,” Hall said.
Tip-off between the Ramblers and Sycamores is scheduled for 12 p.m. on New Year’s Day and 1 p.m. Jan. 2. Both games are at Gentile Arena.