The sounds of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” poured from the SIU women’s basketball locker room Monday night after the team snapped an 11-game skid with an 84-80 win over Evansville.
The Salukis giddily belted out the chorus to the 1967 classic by the Queen of Soul.
“We played that about 10 times,” said junior Katie Berwanger, who scored 19 points Monday night. “But we all know how to spell now.”
The scene was a stark contrast from the Salukis’ last home game, when an 87-63 loss to Middle Tennessee State brought many of them to tears.
SIU had to earn the win after trailing by 17 late in the first half, then leading by nine with 2:23 remaining in the game before a frantic 9-0 Evansville run tied the game with 21 seconds to play.
Doing what brought success all night, SIU kept it simple. Dana Pinkston dribbled from the three-point line halfway in toward the basket before backing out.
She dribbled back to the three-point line and launched a three-point shot from the right wing that hit nothing but net and brought the small but boisterous crowd of 262 to its feet.
“I’d been driving but I haven’t had any success so I just figured it’d be a higher percentage shot for me to try and hit the three,” Pinkston said.
Head coach Lori Opp didn’t set up a play. She just let her team do what it had been doing all night – relax and take the open shot.
“We could have easily called a timeout, but our concern there was that we would come out of a timeout and so concerned with executing and running a play that we wouldn’t just relax and take the open shot,” Opp said. “She just took the open shot. She was hot, so why wouldn’t you let her go ahead and shoot the ball?”
And shoot the ball SIU did. Opp simplified the offense and her players, instead of appearing hesitant like they had in so many games, took open shots without a second thought.
This led to an extraordinary offensive output, as four Salukis reached double-figure scoring on a team that hadn’t even put one player in double digits for several games.
The win could not have come at a better time, as the Purple Aces were three games ahead of SIU in the standings before the game. The Salukis will probably have to pass Evansville and Illinois State in the standings to make the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“It’s a big confidence boost, I’d say,” Berwanger said after the game. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a win and that’s always hard.”
And the confidence will be much needed for the Salukis who face the second and third best teams in the conference this weekend when they welcome Drake and Creighton Friday and Sunday.
“I know these kids are just happy to get the win,” Opp said. “The proverbial monkey is off their back as far as being winless in the conference. But we don’t want to stop here. We want to keep building on it.”