After the Loyola women’s basketball team (5-4, 3-2) shocked Bradley University 71-66 Jan. 22, the Ramblers nearly pulled off the two-game series sweep against the second-place team in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) preseason poll. The Braves edged out a 57-55 win over Loyola Jan. 23 in Peoria.
The game came down to the wire. Bradley junior guard Tatum Koenig was at the charity stripe with a pair of free throws and a chance to extend Bradley’s lead to four points with just three seconds remaining in the game. Koenig missed both free throws, and Loyola corralled the rebound but wasn’t able to get a shot off.
After the game, Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski compared the game to a boxing match, speaking to the physicality and intensity between the two teams.
“I thought we had good poise and executed, so that was good to see,” Gorski said. “But yeah, I mean typical Missouri Valley slugfest today. It’s going to make us better.”
Both teams struggled to score, with Loyola holding Bradley to 32.8 percent shooting in the game — tied for the Braves’ second-lowest mark through 15 games this season.
Loyola was picked to finish eighth in the MVC preseason poll and head coach Kate Achter said she told her team that nobody expected them to compete like they did during the weekend.
“I think that this week for us in the MVC, we surprised a lot of people,” Achter said. “And I like that a lot.”
The Braves opened up the game on a 6-0 run, but Loyola didn’t let the game get out of reach and took a 16-13 lead into the second quarter. The second period was still close, with the Ramblers clinging to a one-point lead at halftime.
While the rest of Bradley’s offense struggled, Koenig hit four three-pointers in the first half to keep the Braves in the game. Koenig finished with a season-high 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point territory.
The Braves took control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring Loyola 15-8 in the period. Loyola’s last lead of the game came with 9:28 remaining in the third quarter when the Ramblers were up 31-28. Bradley led 43-37 heading into the final 10 minutes.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Braves stretched their lead to eight points — their biggest of the game. However, Loyola refused to back down, breaking off a 7-0 run to bring the game within one point with under four minutes remaining.
Loyola nearly completed the comeback victory, with Bradley struggling to put the Ramblers away down the stretch. The Braves shot just 4-for-8 from the free throw in the final 30 seconds of the game and 13-for-22 on the day, something Gorski said is “not going to cut it.”
“We thought we lacked a lot of energy yesterday and focus,” Koenig said. “That was our goal, to come in with just more intensity and keep up on defense more and put more pressure on them. I thought we did that today and I thought that’s what helped us get the win.”
Although the Ramblers couldn’t get over the hump, first-year guard Maya Chandler played a large part in keeping them in the game. Nine of Chandler’s team-high 16 points came in the final five minutes when she knocked down three three-pointers over that span.
“Maya has the green light,” Achter said. “What I see Maya do in practice translates directly to the floor in games. With any freshman, there are some inconsistencies and there are going to be some foolish things that happen, but you can live with it when you’re competitive.”
Chandler was the only Rambler to reach double digits in the scoring column. Loyola senior guard Bre Hampton-Bey was the next closest with nine points and a team-high nine rebounds — including six offensive boards.
For Bradley, junior guard Lasha Petree was held to a season-low nine points on 2-for-11 shooting after she managed just 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting Jan. 22 against the Ramblers. Petree came into the series leading the MVC in scoring with 20.8 points per contest.
Achter praised senior guard Ellie Rice’s recent performance for the Ramblers. While Rice only managed seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in the loss, she was Petree’s primary defender during the series. Achter said they expected Petree to come out aggressive and looking to score after a quiet performance in the first matchup, but credited Rice for leading the charge in containing her.
“If Ellie Rice isn’t one of the best defensive players in the league, then I don’t know who is,” Achter said. “If you pick someone else over her, it’s simply because you don’t watch basketball. Ellie made it really hard for Lasha on both days.”
After defeating Valparaiso University and knocking off Bradley in the span of four days, Loyola jumped up in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. Out of the 342 total Division I teams, the Ramblers jumped 82 spots to No. 154 after picking up the pair of victories. Bradley dropped 11 spots to No. 83 after the Jan. 22 loss to Loyola.
Loyola returns to Gentile Arena with a home series against Southern Illinois University Jan. 30-31. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. Jan. 30 and 3 p.m. Jan. 31. Both games are scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+.