W bball: Salukis win first MVC championship in 17 years

By Gus Bode

SIU is the home of two Missouri Valley Conference basketball champions.

The Saluki women’s basketball team took on Evansville Friday at the SIU Arena with a share of the MVC crown at stake. The last time SIU won a conference title was back in the 1989-90 season, when it took the Gateway Conference crown.

The Salukis were playing in front 3,055 people, their largest crowd since they played Missouri in the first game of the season.

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“It makes such a difference,” head coach Dana Eikenberg said. “You play in front of that, it’s like a sixth man, they’re an extra defense, they thrive off of our energy and our kids responded so well. That crowd was probably the difference in three points.”

The two teams battled back and forth the entire game and the lead changed hands nine times.

The only shot made by junior guard Erin Pauk was a three-pointer with 1 minute, 45 seconds to go, to put SIU ahead 58-57, and senior guard Carlai Moore made a layup with 0:21 remaining on the clock to put the Salukis up by three. Two free throws from freshman forward Dana Olsen sealed the game for the Salukis, winning 63-60, and guaranteed themselves a share of the MVC regular season title.

“Unbelievable,” Coach Eikenberg said. “Truly a battle.”

Junior guard Jayme Sweere had a great first half, scoring 15 of her 19 points and shooting 60 percent from the field. Sweere also had the assist on Pauk’s 3-pointer to take the lead late.

“They would collapse on the lane cause that’s what they were doing the entire second half,” Sweere said. “I knew those kicks would be there.”

What Sweere was to the first half, Moore was to the second half. Moore scored 13 of her 21 points in the second half, going 3-for-3 from the free throw line and 5-for-7 from the floor. Moore came up big late, scoring eight points in the final 7:30 of the game.

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“She was a senior,” Sweere said. “That’s what she does and that’s her heart and that’s what she is going to do in a big game.”

Still, Sweere said she believes the Salukis’ basketball is yet to come.

“I feel like we’re playing with guts,” Sweere said. “We’re not necessarily pretty but we have grit and guts and that’s what we play off of.”

SIU is now 6-1 in the conference play when the game is decided by five points or less.

“That’s the only thing we know how to do,” Eikenberg said. “Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. I knew it was going to be a one-possession game and the last media timeout I told them you’re going to win this game because of your defense.”

The Salukis started off the season 3-for-7, but after losing to Indiana the Salukis have won 15 of their last 17 games.

“It’s been a long road,” Moore said. “It’s a great feeling because we know we won it as a team.”

Sweere, however, said the Salukis don’t want to settle for a tie for the MVC title.

“I personally want to win it outright,” Sweere said. “We want to win it and be the only one at the top.”

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