Saying junior center Dyana Pierre is consistently in the starting lineup would be an understatement—she’s started 84 consecutive games dating back to her freshman season in 2012.
In fact, the whole starting lineup can be described as consistent. Pierre, forward Azia Washington, guard Cartaesha Macklin, redshirt sophomore guard Rishonda Napier and freshman guard Kylie Giebelhausen have started together in all but five games this year.
Pierre’s streak is the longest on the team by nearly 50 games. Washington has started 35 consecutive contests, while Napier and Macklin reshirted last season.
With a record of 17-11, they have contributed to SIU’s biggest single-season turnaround in program history, winning 12 more games this year than last year. The Salukis have won 15 of 23 games with those five players starting. The 2013-2014 Salukis only had three players start more than 23 games.
Giebelhausen cracked the lineup for good in the third game of her collegiate career Nov. 26 against Memphis. Since then, only a shoulder injury that sidelined Napier for three games between Jan. 18 and Jan. 25 has broken up the starting five.
Four of the Saluki starters have been with the program for the past three years. Giebelhausen is the lone newcomer among the group.
Napier said Giebelhausen’s approach allowed her to transition seamlessly into the starting lineup.
“She just came with the right attitude, just that she wanted to win and she wanted to contribute,” Napier said. “And she doesn’t mind working hard to do so, so she just fit right in.”
Giebelhausen is second on the team in 3-pointers this season.
Coach Cindy Stein said she would not be reconsidering the starting lineup after a game against Missouri State in which the Saluki bench played an increased role.
Only six Salukis average more than 10 minutes per game. Senior guard Mercedes Griffin provides lockdown defense off the bench, but no other SIU reserve regularly plays double-digit minutes.
Eight of the other nine teams in the Missouri Valley Conference have at least nine players averaging double-digit minutes. Wichita State (24-4, 15-1), the conference’s top team, has seven players who play at least 10 minutes per game.
SIU senior forward Ariel Haynes, who has seen her playing time drop from 17.5 minutes per game last season to 4.8 this year, said there is no tension between the starters and the bench players.
“We’re definitely a team,” Haynes said. “We talk all day, before and after practice, we all hang out. It’s definitely a team.”
Assistant coach Andrea Gorski said the solidity in the starting lineup reflects the abilities of those five players rather than the shortcomings of the reserves.
“It speaks to how well our starters have been playing as a unit and how hard they work in practice,” Gorski said. “They definitely have people breathing down their necks, but they haven’t done anything to relinquish it. And, obviously, when you win, you don’t want to change anything.”
Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.