December 4, 2020
MVC check-in: Missouri State looks ahead after a big win, others impress early
Plus more from around the Valley, including the new schedule and a pair of COVID-related pauses
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Things have been going pretty well for the No. 21 Missouri State Lady Bears since capping off the 2018-19 season with an upset-filled run to the Sweet Sixteen. They defeated No. 24 Minnesota in last season’s opener to prove they were still as good as ever — with a new head coach, to boot — then continued that dominance all the way to a first-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference. A second straight NCAA Tournament bid was all but assured, if not for COVID-19.
Despite now playing in the midst of the pandemic, not a lot seems to have changed on the court for the Lady Bears. That fact was all too evident in Saturday’s 81-72 win over then-No. 12 Maryland.
“I’m just so proud of this group,” head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said postgame. “They’re resilient, the fight we have and the poise we have under pressure. … We just had to refocus and do what we do, and play our best game, and not worry about the other team.”
After a disappointing first half, Missouri State came back with a vengeance, sparking a 23-9 third quarter that all but sealed its lead for good. At the forefront of the offensive output was Brice Calip and her career-best 26 points — which also helped her pass 1,000 points in her career. She’s now one of four active Valley players with 1,000 or more career points.
Calip was named the Valley’s player of the week for her efforts. The senior is the defending MVC Defensive Player of the Year and a 2019-20 All-MVC First Team selection, and last month was named to the all-conference preseason team alongside teammate Jasmine Franklin.
“I thought she was amazing,” Agugua-Hamilton said of Calip’s performance against Maryland. “She’s going to guard the best player on the other team and she’s going to show up night in and night out. I’ve challenged her to be more aggressive offensively and she really has owned that. She’s a triple-threat player and I think she deserves all the respect she’s getting.”
The Lady Bears finished the weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase 2-1, following up wins against host Florida Gulf Coast and Maryland with a disappointing loss to Wake Forest. But so far, it’s not even close to the adversity Missouri State has faced in the recent past. Take that 2018-19 season again, where it kicked off a 1-7 start with a home exhibition loss — and remember where that team finished.
While a home game is finally in their future, the Lady Bears have to wait a little longer than originally thought to play it — their original season opener Saturday against Tulsa was canceled. Instead, Missouri State’s home opener will be a Dec. 7 exhibition contest against Lincoln.
Around the Valley
Bradley’s Gabi Haack wasted no time breaking the program’s career 3-pointers record, sinking five from deep in the season opener against Kansas City to pass Katie Yohn’s mark of 210. With two more in Saturday’s loss to Milwaukee and three in Wednesday’s win over Wright State, she’s just five shy of tying all-time great Jackie Stiles for 25th in the Valley record books.
Grace Berg of Drake has been waiting almost two years to make her debut after announcing her transfer in January 2019. The delay paid off in a big way, as Berg led the Bulldogs with 24 points in a season-opening win over Creighton. Losses to Green Bay and Iowa followed, though the team still maintained impressive form in the latter game, falling 103-97 in regulation.
Unlike the Bulldogs, Valparaiso did pull off a win over its Big Ten foe, taking down Illinois on Wednesday in its second game of the season. It was Valpo’s first win over a Big Ten school (and a power conference school) since 2012. This successful outing followed an opening loss at Bowling Green, and the Crusaders’ schedule doesn’t get easier from there — they won’t have a home game until Dec. 12, with visits to Purdue and Miami (OH) scheduled first.
After an opening loss to Illinois, Indiana State was powered by Essy Latu’s six 3-pointers in the Sycamores’ win over Detroit Mercy. At the time, it was the NCAA’s fifth-best individual 3-point tally of the season.
Northern Iowa has also been road-tested lately, bookending its sole home game — a win over former Valley foe Creighton — with losses at Iowa and North Dakota State. Kam Finley was impressive off the bench for the Panthers in their first two games, averaging a team-best 15.5 points, before landing her fifth career start Wednesday night in North Dakota.
Team activities at Illinois State and Southern Illinois are paused briefly due to limited roster numbers and a player’s positive COVID-19 test, respectively. The stoppage resulted in Illinois State canceling its first three games, while SIU got in one game (a loss to Eastern Michigan on Nov. 25) before stopping play. Both are scheduled to return to action on Dec. 13, with Illinois State taking on Western Illinois and SIU facing Southeast Missouri State.
Evansville and Southern Illinois are still waiting on their first wins — but, in fairness, they’re also two of three teams in the conference who have only played one game. The Purple Aces’ loss came at Murray State on Tuesday. Loyola, meanwhile, beat Chicago State in its first and only game so far.
After a two-week wait, the Valley now has a conference schedule … again. The slate was reworked to implement the travel partner system that’s in use by several conferences this season. Teams will now play back-to-back games against the same opponent at one location, as well as their travel partner on separate dates in the home-and-home series.
Upcoming games (subject to change — hello, 2020)
The below list contains only the teams’ very next game over the next week. The complete schedule can be found at the link above.
Saturday, Dec. 5
Indiana State vs. Murray State, 12 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
Evansville vs. Purdue Fort Wayne, 1 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Sunday, Dec. 6
Illinois State vs. Saint Xavier, 1 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Valparaiso at Purdue, 1 p.m. CT (BTN+)
Bradley at Saint Louis, 2 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Drake at Minnesota, 2 p.m. CT (BTN+)
UNI at Wichita State, 5 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Monday, Dec. 7
Missouri State vs. Lincoln, 7 p.m. CT (ESPN3)