Late threes lift Panthers over cold Salukis in quarterfinals

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

Northern Iowa forward Amber Sorenson’s nickname is “Stretch,” perhaps because of her height, or because of what the 6-foot 2-inch junior forward can do to a defense.

The Panthers (17-13, 12-6) used three straight Sorenson 3-pointers to pull away from SIU (17-13, 10-8) in a quarterfinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo., on Friday.

SIU outrebounded Northern Iowa 57-41, but made only 22-of-80 shots on the game in a 59-50 loss.

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After splitting the regular-season series, the Panthers and Salukis played a tight first half, with neither team leading by more than 5 points.

Junior forward Azia Washington recorded 7 points and a game-high 8 rebounds in the opening period. Junior center Dyana Pierre scored a game-high 8 first-half points.

Northern Iowa spread the wealth in the first half. Nine different players scored for the Panthers, with senior guard Brittni Donaldson leading the way with 6 points on 2-of-3 shooting.

SIU opened the second half on a 10-0 run and outrebounded Northern Iowa 11-3 during the first three minutes of the period.

The Panthers fought back to tie the game at 37 with 12:38 remaining.

The teams traded baskets for the next eight minutes before Sorenson hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to give her team a 53-44 lead.

Sorenson started the game 1-of-10 behind the arc but said assistant coach Adam DeJoode gave her words of encouragement in the middle of the game.

“He said, ‘Nobody’s going to remember the ones that you miss,’” Sorenson said. “’They’ll just remember the ones that you make, so keep shooting.’”

Sophomore guard Rishonda Napier banked in a pair of deep threes in the game’s final 45 seconds, but her efforts were too little, too late.

Senior guard Brooke Brown led Northern Iowa with 17 points, including 4 free throws to help hold off the Salukis in the last 1:11.

Pierre led the Salukis with 18 points and 21 rebounds. Washington finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

UNI coach Tanya Warren said the game’s sloppy nature did not blemish the value of her team’s win.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it,” Warren said. “We gutted out another one. This team has been doing this all season long, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

SIU coach Cindy Stein said the better team won Friday.

“Our hats are off to them,” Stein said. “They outplayed us. I’m very proud of these young ladies.”

The Salukis’ postseason future hangs in the balance after the loss to Northern Iowa, a fact Stein lamented.

“I hope the NIT looks at us hard, but that’s out of my control,” Stein said. “It’s hard to answer questions that are out of your control, and I’m a control freak.”

Northern Iowa will take on top-seeded Wichita State at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinal round.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.

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