With the 55-46 victory over Southern Illinois University Jan. 31, the Loyola women’s basketball team (7-4, 5-2) is off to its best start to Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play under head coach Kate Achter. However, Achter said there’s still “a lot of basketball to be played” before her squad can start celebrating.
“Occasionally I’ll think back to what it was like that first season, but there were so many difficult moments that I’ve just kind of decided that those moments don’t get my energy anymore,” Achter said. “I love my team. I love the energy they bring this year. They make it really enjoyable to come to work … and I’ve not always been able to say that.”
The Ramblers swept the Salukis Jan. 30-31 at Gentile Arena to move up into second place in the MVC at the time of publication. Loyola was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll while the Salukis were predicted to come in sixth.
After tying a season-low with two points in the Ramblers’ first win over Southern Illinois, senior guard Ellie Rice was a point shy of tying her career high with 19 points for the Ramblers.
“I think yesterday definitely was an off day for me, so I was just focusing on bouncing back and doing whatever I could to help my team win,” Rice said. “For me, it always starts on the defensive end. If I can get a stop, get a few rebounds, that always kind of motivates me a little bit more.”
The Salukis came out strong in the opening minutes, starting the game on a 7-2 run. However, Loyola immediately responded with a 15-2 run of its own over the course of the remainder of the first quarter and the start of the second quarter to take a 17-9 lead.
The Salukis managed to time the game at 19 points apiece with 2:11 remaining before the half, but Loyola scored four quick points before halftime to take a 23-19 lead into the break.
Loyola maintained its lead for the entirety of the second half. The Salukis got within a point of the Ramblers with 6:45 left in the third quarter, but Loyola rattled off a 9-0 run to take a 10-point lead — its largest of the game.
Loyola held a 38-33 lead heading into the final 10 minutes. The Salukis were unable to make it a single-possession game at any point in the fourth quarter, and the Ramblers once again stretched their lead to 10 points with just under a minute left in the game.
“Great weekend from my team,” Achter said. “Southern [Illinois] is a really gritty, physical, tough basketball team. I thought we matched them, and today in the fourth quarter I thought we exceeded them.”
In the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), Loyola ranked No. 145 out of 343 teams while Southern Illinois was No. 179. The NET is used to help determine at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament.
The Ramblers beat Southern Illinois Jan. 30 despite allowing senior forward Abby Brockmeyer to score 28 points for the Salukis. Today, Loyola held Brockmeyer to 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
For the second-straight game, Loyola held Southern Illinois’ senior guard Makenzie Silvey in check. Silvey entered the weekend averaging a team-high 13.4 points per game, but Loyola held her to seven points Jan. 30 and eight points Jan. 31. She turned the ball over five times in each game. Rice was Silvey’s primary defender and Achter said she was looking forward to the challenge of defending Silvey.
“Ellie’s a senior and she’s a veteran at what she does and she’s just really good,” Achter said. “Yesterday was the most emotional that I’ve ever seen Ellie. This game means something to her because she takes pride in defending Mackenzie Silvey because Mackenzie’s a really good player.”
After the game, Rice said it took a “team effort” to contain Silvey. Rice added she thinks the Ramblers’ defense is the reason for their success during conference play so far.
“Throughout conference [play], we’ve really battled with each team we’ve played defensively,” Rice said. “I think it starts there and being able to play within our offense.”
Loyola’s defense will be put to the test Feb. 5-6 when the Ramblers host Drake University. The Bulldogs are the highest-scoring team in The Valley, averaging 78.9 points per game. Meanwhile, Loyola allows a league-best 57.5 points per contest.
Tip-off between the Ramblers and Bulldogs is set for 6 p.m. both days. Feb. 5 is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN3 with Feb. 6 airing on ESPN+.