Salukis have to wait and see after early MVC exit

The+Saluki+women%E2%80%99s+basketball+team+celebrates+Feb.+6+after+defeating+top-ranked+Drake+University+81-76+at+SIU+Arena.+%28DailyEgyptian.com+file+photo%29

The Saluki women’s basketball team celebrates Feb. 6 after defeating top-ranked Drake University 81-76 at SIU Arena. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

The future of the SIU women’s basketball team hangs in the balance after losing to Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Friday.

Thanks to a historic turnaround, the Salukis have a chance to play in a postseason tournament other than the MVC Tournament for the first time in eight years.

Although the NCAA Tournament is out of the question, at (17-13, 10-8) the Salukis have a shot at the Women’s National Invitational Tournament or the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

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Self-professed control freak and SIU coach Cindy Stein will just have to wait.

“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.”

The 64-team WNIT and the 16-team WBI will announce their brackets Monday night.

Even if the selection processes for both tournaments leave the Salukis out in the cold, SIU has enjoyed its first winning season since 2006-2007.

That year, the Salukis finished 21-11 and 16-2 in conference. SIU lost to Drake in its first MVC Tournament game, but advanced to the second round of the WNIT.

The 2014-2015 Salukis jumped out to the program’s best start since 1993-1994, winning six of their first eight games and quickly surpassing last season’s total of five wins.

A six-game winning streak from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15, the school’s longest in eight years, helped SIU ensure the biggest single-season turnaround in program history.

With 18 points and 21 rebounds Friday, junior center Dyana Pierre recorded her 16th double-double of the season, giving her 37 for her career. She is now first in Saluki history in that category and tied for third all-time in the MVC.

Another factor in SIU’s success this season was the return of guards Rishonda Napier, a redshirt sophomore, and Cartaesha Macklin, a redshirt junior.

Macklin and Napier played in a combined 12 games in 2013-2014 before sitting out.

Other guards averaged 4.8 points per game last season. Macklin has averaged 9.8 points this year, while Napier leads SIU in scoring at 16.2 points per game.

Senior guard Mercedes Griffin said Napier and Macklin’s presence helped the team’s mentality over the course of this season.

“We’re a lot hungrier,” Griffin said. “We were excited to have our key players back. Just having everybody back as a team helped out a lot.”

Napier earned her first career First-Team All-MVC honor this year. Pierre earned her second straight First-Team honor.

Freshman guard Kylie Giebelhausen garnered all-conference honors of her own, being named to the MVC All-Freshman team. Giebelhausen started 28 of 30 games for SIU, averaging 6.9 points and tied for sixth in the Valley with 30 blocks.

Junior forward Azia Washington expressed confidence in her team’s ability to continue its success this season.

“Obviously it hurts that we just lost, but we’re ready to go back out there and give it another shot,” Washington said after the loss to UNI. “We’ve proven a lot of people wrong this season just doing what we do. We want to continue showing we know how to play.”

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

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