Salukis look to cage Redbirds

By Gus Bode

The SIU women’s basketball team’s next task is one coach Dana Eikenberg said she does not think any team has accomplished all season.

The Salukis will play Illinois State at 12:05 p.m. Thursday at the SIU Arena, with the Redbirds (20-4, 11-1 MVC) sitting atop the Missouri Valley Conference and featuring senior guard Kristi Cirone, who Eikenberg said is one of the best 40 players in the nation.

This season, Cirone leads the MVC in points per game with 18.6, and 3-point field goal percentage at 44.1. She also ranks second in Valley with 6.3 assists per game, and Eikenberg said where she has improved her game the most is making her teammates better.

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‘I don’t know if anybody’s slowed her down all year,’ Eikenberg said. ‘I think we’re just going to try to be within her footsteps, make sure she hears somebody all the time, and that means we can’t get caught in kind of a physical game with her because she’s so good. She’s strong enough to be able to make quick cuts.’

When the Salukis (7-15, 3-10 MVC) visited Illinois State on Jan. 24, the Redbirds won 75-51, and Cirone scored 18 points and added five assists.

Senior guard Erica Smith and senior forward Jasmine Gibson scored 11 points each in that contest, but Gibson pulled down only two rebounds, and SIU lost the rebounding battle 43-27.

Eikenberg said the Salukis did not play well in the post during the first meeting and will have to contain the Redbirds’ frontcourt players Thursday to have a shot at winning.

‘We know what Illinois State’s going to do,’ Eikenberg said. ‘They’re going to throw it in, and most people do, and we’ve got to be able to understand that and continue to try to find ways to defend that.’

SIU has lost its last two games, both of which were on the road. The Salukis are 1-9 on the road this season, but 6-4 at home.

Eikenberg said the play from Smith and Gibson dictates how the rest of the team plays, especially on the road.

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‘We’ve got eight new players on an 11-man roster right now,’ Eikenberg said. ‘They’ve gone into a new environment and they don’t know what to expect, and when your seniors and your upperclassmen can’t communicate that, then it’s really hard for them to know.’

The 12:05 p.m. tip-off Thursday is part of Youth Day, but Eikenberg said the uncommon start time would not throw off the Salukis’ schedule in a basketball sense.

They will not have a normal academic day because of the early afternoon game, but they will not be out of sync because they practice at 7 a.m.

‘We practice at 7 a.m. every day, so that’s pretty consistent with our stuff,’ Eikenberg said. ‘We’ll be up and get a shoot around, get a good meal and kind of just be ready to play.’

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