Women’s basketball to face Bradley

By Frank Gogola

Women’s basketball (1-2) will look for its second home win in as many opportunities when it hosts the Bradley Braves (2-2) at 7 p.m. today at the Convocation Center.

The Huskies, who are winless on the road, earned their lone victory this season when they defeated Mississippi Valley State Nov. 12 at home. The Braves enter the matchup on a two-game slide but are 1-0 on the road this season.

The Huskies haven’t been consistent on offense through three games this season, but a lot of that has had to do with their opponents.

They were blown out by 34 points in their season opener at perennial Horizon League power Green Bay (2-1). They posted a 19-point victory over road-weary Mississippi Valley State (0-5) — which doesn’t play its first home game until Jan. 4 — in their home opener. They then fell by 20 points at the Big Ten’s Wisconsin (3-0) on Sunday.

Head coach Kathi Bennett said she sees today’s game being tighter.

“I think it’s going to be a close game,” Bennett said. “I think we’re both evenly matched. I think it’s just who can play smarter.”

After winning their first two games by six and four points, the Braves dropped their two games by four and 24 points. NIU and Bradley each last played and lost Sunday, and Bennett said she expects a tough game, as both teams enter the Thursday bout looking to get back in the win column.

“It’ll be intense,” Bennett said. “Both teams want to win. I know we do, so it should be a very intense battle because we’re both in-state, we both recruit some of the same players. … It’ll be an intense game, and it’s definitely a rivalry.”

NIU and Bradley will meet for the 15th time overall and the eighth straight season. The Braves, winners of three straight games against the Huskies and 7-7 for all time, come into DeKalb with the No. 1 scoring offense (78) in the Missouri Valley Conference but also the worst scoring defense (82.5).

“That’s not our style,” Bennett said. “They get opponents playing their game, which is up and down and taking quick shots. They don’t care how many you score; they just want to score more, and that’s more their mentality. I feel like if we fall into that, that’s gonna hurt us.

“We have to do a great job of making sure they’re working for their shots. Then we have to make them work and don’t take the first open shot that is there.”

The Braves are led by junior guard Michelle Young, who has averaged 22.5 points per game through four games, the best mark in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Senior guard Kelsey Budd has added 15 points per game and a MVC-best 3.5 steals per game.

Senior forward Kelly Frings completes the trio of double-digit scorers with 12 points per game.

Redshirt senior guard Catie O’Leary has nearly averaged a double-double through four games, as she has put up 9.8 points per game and a MVC-leading 11 rebounds per game this season.

Rounding out the starters is senior center Alyson Spinas-Valainis, who has added 8.3 points per game.

“They definitely have the green light — anybody at any time,” Bennett said. “All five that they put on the floor can score by shooting the three or getting to the rim. So, they do a great job with that, but they also run transition; they really get the ball out. … They’re definitely a team that, offensively, has a lot of power. … So, you just have to stay engaged defensively for 40 minutes. You have to play at a high level and have great energy.”