Facing Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) opponents as conference rivals for the last time, No. 5 seed Loyola women’s basketball (18-12, 10-8) fell 68-52 to No. 4 seed Illinois State University (ISU) in the quarterfinal matchup of the MVC tournament March 11.
The loss in the conference tournament marks Loyola’s last MVC game. After playing in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) last season — the first postseason appearance in program history — Loyola built a resume of wins this season but wasn’t selected for a postseason tournament.
Following her team’s loss in the tournament quarterfinals, head coach Kate Achter said she was disappointed by the outcome but was proud of her players. Her team also fought back from an early 16-4 deficit to make the game competitive, she said.
“The result isn’t what we wanted, but I couldn’t be more proud of the fight that we showed,” Achter said. “To start the game down 16-4 was less than ideal, but we fought our butts off. Disappointed with the end result, but I think I’ve got a great basketball team.”
Achter’s team couldn’t keep up with Juliunn Redmond’s offensive outburst, scoring 29 points while shooting 12-25 from the floor. Achter said Redmond led the Redbirds with confidence, adding that she can drain clutch shots.
“She’s not afraid of a moment,” Achter said. “She just stays consistent with her approach and I think she was able to take more shots over the course of the season compared to a year ago. That gave her confidence and this was definitely a big moment today.”
Loyola also gifted Illinois State 23 attempts at the free throw line, with the Redbirds sinking 18 of those shots. The game’s physical play in the paint earned ISU its many trips to the free throw line, disrupting Loyola’s plan to limit the Redbirds’ chances, Achter said.
Given Illinois State’s offensive power, the Ramblers’ offensive struggles eliminated any chance of a comeback, shooting just 32% from the floor and 22% from three-point territory. Senior forward Allison Day — who powers Loyola’s offense by averaging 10.3 points per game this season — only scored seven points.
The loss to Illinois State was the last game for Loyola’s four graduating seniors including Day and graduate guard Bre Hampton-Bey — two of Loyola’s top three scorers. Day said she didn’t want to end her career with the loss against Illinois State, adding that Achter has encouraged the team to keep a positive mindset about possible postseason play.
With the tournament behind them, Achter and her players reflected on their last season in the Valley. Loyola’s 18 wins broke program records, the most for the Ramblers since the 1988-89 team went 21-8. This season was also only the second time in nine seasons that Loyola had a winning record in MVC play, earning a 10-8 conference record in the 2015-16 season.
Last season, Loyola qualified for the WBI with an 11-13 (8-10 MVC) record. According to NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings at the time, the Ramblers were the favorite out of the tournament’s eight teams, ranking in at No. 147 out of 343 teams in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. Yet Loyola faced off against former No. 273 Stetson University, falling 49-45 in the first round of the tournament.
This season, Loyola’s resume includes a win against Missouri State University, ranked No. 44 out of 356 teams according to the NET rankings. The Ramblers also lost to DePaul University and fell to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) twice, ranked No. 53 and No. 49 in the NET rankings, respectively. Loyola fell to DePaul by 34 points and lost to UNI by 13 and four points in the two matchups.
After eliminating Loyola, No. 4-seed Illinois State beat No. 1-seed Southern Illinois University 50-42 in the semifinal matchup, with Redmond scoring 18 points. No. 3-seed UNI beat No. 2-seed Missouri State 63-57 in the second semifinal matchup thanks to Karli Rucker’s 18 points. In the MVC title game, Illinois State fought to a close 50-48 win over UNI as Redmond exploded for 21 points.
Ultimately, Loyola wasn’t selected for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament or the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). 132 teams were selected between the NCAA tournament and the WNIT, but Loyola couldn’t find a spot in either tournament with its No. 118 NET ranking.
Next weekend, the MVC will be represented in the NCAA tournament by No. 15-seed Illinois State and No. 11-seed Missouri State. As for the WNIT, Drake University, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois earned a trip to the tournament.