With only a few hours to prepare to face a new opponent due to an abrupt scheduling change, the No. 6-seeded Loyola women’s basketball team came up short against No. 5-seeded Bradley University 70-56 March 13 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) semifinals in Moline, Illinois.
After upsetting No. 3-seeded Illinois State University by one point in the Hoops in the Heartland quarterfinals March 12, the Ramblers were set to play Drake University and Bradley was scheduled to square off with top-seeded Missouri State University in the semifinals March 13.
But Missouri State pulled out of the tournament due to concerns over COVID-19 after Bradley and Drake each had a positive test in their Tier I personnel. Despite the positive tests, the MVC ruled “subsequent contact tracing revealed that both institutions have enough available and non-impacted players and bench personnel to safely compete.”
With just three teams remaining, the MVC shuffled things around to give Drake — the highest remaining seed — a spot in the championship, awaiting the winner of Loyola and Bradley.
Achter said she first heard rumblings that there might be a schedule change in the wee hours of the morning March 13 but it wasn’t official until later that day.
“We had to complete a whole scout, walk through Bradley’s plays in the parking lot I think in about two and a half hours,” Achter said. “I know Bradley had to do the same thing. We just didn’t know if we were actually going to play Bradley or not, so it was really difficult.”
Despite Missouri State opting not to play in the remainder of the tournament, Achter said after evaluating the situation “we felt like we were still able to put the health and safety of our athletes first.”
Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski said the team’s positive test didn’t come from a student-athlete or coach.
“Our last test was last night and none of our coaching staff or players tested positive,” Gorski said. “None of our coaches or players had to contact trace and miss today because of it. I think things were a little blown out of proportion and that’s why I put that [tweet] out there because there were a lot of rumors going around.”
Since the official schedule change didn’t come until later, the Braves woke up at 7 a.m. in preparation for a 1 p.m. tip-off.
“We got up early for shootaround because we thought we were going to play at 1, and then we found out that we weren’t going to play at 1,” Bradley junior guard Lasha Petree said. “And then we were like ‘okay,’ and we didn’t know if we were going to play again or just going to play tomorrow.”
Once the Braves and Ramblers tipped-off, they were competitive to start the game. Loyola took a 13-12 lead with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter — which would be the Ramblers’ only lead in the game. However, that lead only lasted 12 seconds before the Braves jumped back in front and ended the period up 20-17.
Bradley’s lead grew to seven points heading into halftime and up to double digits midway through the third quarter. Its largest lead came with 5:23 left to play in the fourth quarter, with the Braves leading by 17 points.
In an effort to get back into the game, Achter said her emphasis was on getting “stops and scores” to slow down the Braves.
“We needed our defense to be better,” Achter said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re scoring on one end if you’re giving up buckets on the other. You have to get stops.”
Achter said the goal was to cut the deficit to eight points by the three-minute mark. The Ramblers rattled off a 9-0 run to achieve that, getting within eight points of Bradley with 3:19 left to play. But Loyola ran out of gas down the stretch and Bradley pulled away, ending the game on a 12-6 run to win by 14.
Loyola senior guard Ellie Rice finished with a team-high 17 points — including 11 in the final 10 minutes. Junior forward Allison Day was the only other Rambler to reach double figures with 14 points, but Day was scoreless in the fourth quarter and only attempted one shot in the period.
“I was just trying to do whatever I could to chip away and keep it close,” Rice said about her fourth quarter performance. “Luckily for me, that was hitting a couple shots.”
Bradley’s Lasha Petree led all scorers with 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting — her 28th career 20-point game. The junior guard scored 16 of those points in the second half to help the Braves pull away from Loyola.
Bradley senior guard Gabi Haack finished with 16 points, while junior guard Tatum Koenig and sophomore guard Mahri Petree added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
As a team, Bradley shot a scorching 50 percent from three-point territory, knocking down 12 of its 24 attempts. Meanwhile, Loyola was just 2-for-9 from beyond the arc.
Despite the loss, Achter left the door open for another potential game this season. She mentioned potentially looking into a lower-end postseason tournament like the College Basketball Invitational.
“Today’s result doesn’t impact how I feel about them, how much I love this team,” Achter said. “I think we’ve beaten a lot of good basketball teams this year, and I’m hopeful that we may have positioned ourselves for the CBI.”