Salukis shoot for the Aces

By Gus Bode

Women seeking first conference victory of the year

The SIU women’s basketball team will need to be nearly perfect in order to defeat Evansville Saturday afternoon.

This isn’t idle speculation but words directly from head coach Dana Eikenberg’s mouth. Despite the Aces’ sixth-place 3-3 Missouri Valley Conference record, they aren’t a team to be taken lightly.

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But with the Salukis still seeking their first conference victory, no opponent at this point can be taken lightly.

“We’ve got to try to slow down what they do,” Eikenberg said. “We’re going to mix up our defense a little bit and try to take care of the basketball.”

Taking care of the ball is an aspect the Salukis are still struggling with at this point in the season. Averaging 20 turnovers a game and toeing the charity stripe only four times the past two games has translated into major hurdles for the team.

SIU was 2-of-4 from the free throw line Saturday against Bradley in a 67-41 whipping. Eikenberg said smart decisions and aggression will be key components in making more trips to the vital free throw line against the Aces.

“It’s crucial,” said senior guard Danette Jones about making it to the free throw line. “Getting to the line is a sign of us being aggressive.”

But the fact that Evansville lost to Bradley by a mere three points in their last encounter and to Southwest Missouri State, the conference leaders, by only six points is a testament to the team’s ability.

“They’re a dangerous team,” Eikenberg said. “They count on the defense getting lazy, and they play great basketball.”

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Junior Megan Liffick and sophomore Laura Gaybrick lead the Aces with each scoring almost 11 points a game. Those statistics might not seem overwhelming on paper, but three of their teammates are right behind them, scoring roughly nine points an outing. Do the math, and there are almost 50 points bound to appear on the scoreboard, with help from the bench not included.

One chink in Evansville’s armor the Salukis might be able to capitalize on, and are personally familiar with, is turnovers. Evansville has coughed the ball up 17.5 times a game, and SIU will likely apply some heavy pressure.

Jones, SIU’s leading scorer with almost 14 points a game, knows despite the Aces’ turnovers, they are a team to be respected. Still, the Salukis aren’t going to drastically change their game plan.

“Our defensive philosophy won’t change,” Jones said. “We’re going to try to pressure the basketball and step up our intensity.”

As usual, Jones and senior Daphney Desamours will likely take the brunt of defensive pressure. This could also play into the Salukis’ hands, but once again, aggression is a recurring theme.

Eikenberg said she would like to see other Saluki women take some shots when Jones and Desamours are tied down, but it often comes down to willingness to shoot.

Junior Amy Hayden displayed her willingness with an 18-point game against St. Louis University Dec. 7 but has since remained relatively quiet. Freshman India Bruster recently registered a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Northern Iowa.

But to Eikenberg’s chagrin, those breakout performances have been difficult to find this season, and it generally comes from a lack of shooting.

“Chances are better of that ball going in if we shoot it than not giving up a turnover,” Eikenberg said. “We’d rather shoot it and at least give ourselves an opportunity for an offensive rebound.”

Reporter Gabe House can be reached at [email protected]

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