Women’s basketball looks to bounce back against in-state rival Bradley Braves

Alex Staab, Courier Staff

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Tonight will be one of the highest-quality non-conference home opponents in town to take on the Western Illinois women’s basketball team (3-2), with that opponent being the Bradley Braves (2-1).

So what will be the difference-maker in Wednesday’s matchup between the Braves and Leathernecks? It may just come down to the three-point shooting. That’s one factor, anyway. Bradley has two sharp-shooting players in Gabi Haack and Lasha Petree that combined for 125 threes, 845 points (28.2 points per game) in 18-19 and the dynamic duo has already hit 11 threes this season.

There’s also players like Chelsea Brackmann, who was one of the nation’s top rebounders a season ago, averaging 10.9 boards per game. In fact, Brackmann averaged a double-double a season ago, scoring 12.6 points per game as well.

That just scratches the surface in terms of potential Braves x-factors. One could also look at freshman Mahri Petree, Lasha’s younger sister, as a key player. The younger Petree has six threes so far and is averaging nine points per game. At the guard position, there’s also Tatum Koenig, an energetic player that will off and on run the point.

The Braves roster also has some international feel, as freshman Violeta Verano is averaging 16 minutes per game thus far. Verano, a native of Spain, is the fifth international player in Bradley’s program history.

On the other sideline, Western Illinois will look to keep the momentum going off how they played against an always tough and physical Purdue Boilermakers squad, in which the Leathernecks fell, 66-59.

The road trip to West Lafayette saw one career high and a couple of career highs just narrowly missed. Annabel Graettinger (22 points; 2 shy) and Olivia Kaufmann (6 steals; 1 shy) both fell just short. Meanwhile, Evan Zars swatted a career-high five blocks in the seven-point loss.

Another big spark for Western Illinois saw the Leathernecks win the turnover margin by a wide spread, 23-11 to be exact. The Boilermakers only had 33 turnovers in the season prior to tipping off against Western Illinois.

Purdue led for essentially the entire game, 38:32 to be exact. The two teams were dead even at 24 made shots apiece, but perhaps the biggest difference-makers were the rebounds and free throws. Purdue won both. The Boilermakers shot 16-24 from the charity stripe, while the Leathernecks shot 5-7. While Western Illinois brought down 34 rebounds, the Boilermakers topped that category with 56 boards.

Whether it be the three-point shooting or rebounding, something’s got to give when the Braves and Leathernecks do battle for the 10th time.

Double figure scorers will go head to head as Kaufmann’s impressive 18.6 points per game and Graettinger’s equally quality 16.2 points per game side up with Lasha Petree’s 13 points per game and Gabi Haack’s 12.3 points per game.

One final interesting statistic would be that both teams have kept the same starting five so far.

Western Illinois has not beaten Bradley since Dec. 5, 2016, the last time the Braves came to Western Hall. The score of that one was 91-77, and we could be looking for a moderately similar score Wednesday night, with Western Illinois edging Bradley in points per game so far, 80.8 to 77.3. The 2005-2006 meeting between the two is the only one that saw both teams score under 60 points. Bradley holds a 27-14 advantage in the 41 meetings thus far.

Western Illinois may have the better statistics on paper, but you’ll have to come to Western Hall and find out for yourself what happens when the in-state rivals meet. Wednesday’s game tips at 5:30 p.m. and is followed by a men’s game against Northern Illinois at 7:30 p.m

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