In potentially the final game at Gentile Arena for the senior class, the Loyola women’s basketball team (10-12, 8-10) lost 60-45 to Illinois State University March 6.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter said her team was getting good shots on offense but couldn’t knock them down. Coming off a three-point loss against the Redbirds, the Ramblers’ offense struggled to get going in the 15-point defeat in the second game of the two-game series.
“We just struggled across the board to make shots today and sometimes that’s how it happens,” Achter said. “I thought part of the problem was we were taking shots late in the shot clock as opposed to creating draw-to situations to get some more uncontested looks.”
Loyola’s field goal percentage decreased from 51 percent March 5, to 30.9 percent the next day. Illinois State field goal shooting dipped slightly from 50.9 percent in the first game to 45.7 percent March 6.
Despite the loss, Loyola held on to sixth place in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) due to Valparaiso University losing to Drake University March 6. The top six seeds get a bye in the first round of the MVC Tournament Match 11-14 in Moline, Illinois. The Ramblers will get a chance for revenge, as they’re set to play No. 3-seeded Illinois State March 12 in the second round of the tournament.
In the March 6 loss, the first quarter of the game started with a tough defensive contest by both teams, as the first two minutes of the game went scoreless. Through the first five minutes of the quarter, Loyola’s defense held Illinois State to just two points, while first-year Maya Chandler had already tallied five points for herself.
First-year forward Sitori Tanin also showed out in the first quarter for Loyola, pounding the glass for four rebounds in a three-minute span. The Ramblers led for the majority of the period but found themselves trailing 11-9 at the end of the first quarter.
During the entirety of the second quarter, Illinois State’s defense owned the court. Loyola managed only four points in the 10-minute period, shooting just 14.3 percent from the field. Meanwhile, sophomore forward DeAnna Wilson put on a clinic, recording seven points, five rebounds and a block for the Redbirds in the second quarter.
As the third quarter began, Loyola started to look like a different team. Chandler and junior forward Allison Day combined for eight points within the first three minutes of the period. Loyola’s field goal percentage increased dramatically from 14.3 percent in the second quarter, to 58.3 percent in the third. When asked about the significant increase in effectiveness, Achter credited her unique speech.
“My very rigorous halftime speech when I told our players to act like Kanye West,” Achter said. “I’m not kidding, Kanye West has undeterred confidence in himself … whether you agree or disagree with that, it’s all about belief in yourself.”
Despite the strong third quarter performance, Loyola still entered the final 10 minutes trailing by nine. The ramblers struggled to contain the Redbirds’ offense, with Illinois State’s lead jumping up to 18 points with 2:59 left in the game. In the Redbirds’ highest scoring period of the game, Illinois State outscored the Ramblers 19-13 to seal the 15-point victory.
Regardless of their loss, Achter said she was grateful her team was able to shore up its biggest weakness from the previous game: turnovers. The Ramblers were able to reduce their turnovers from 24 in the March 5 loss to six, consequently decreasing their 33 points allowed off turnovers, into only two points March 6.
Achter also had high praise on star senior guard Ellie Rice. After playing 108 games, starting every match since her sophomore year and tallying 956 points wearing the maroon and gold, Rice might have played her final game in Gentile Arena. Despite being a senior, Rice has the option to come back for another year after the NCAA ruled all winter sport student-athletes be granted an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
“Ellie means the world to this program, she has been the unsung hero,” Achter said. “Not only this year, the past year, the year before that, because she does whatever, whatever we need even when she’s exhausted. I think Ellie’s one of the best defenders in the MVC, if she doesn’t get recognized for that this year, I think that’s a travesty.”
Despite entering the MVC Tournament on a five-game losing streak, Achter said she’s confident in her squad’s ability to compete with any team in the conference.
“To quote Baker Mayfield because I’m an Ohioan, I hope we wake up feeling dangerous because I feel like we’re a very dangerous team,” Achter said. “We’re right there, we’re right there. Every team when they have beaten us over the last two weeks here, have celebrated like they won the MVC championship, so that to me is an indicator of how difficult as a team we are to play.”
The Ramblers are slated to take on the Redbirds March 12 at 8 p.m. The game is set to be broadcasted on ESPN+.