MACOMB, Ill. – The Western Illinois women’s basketball team took on one of their toughest opponents of the season on Wednesday night in the form of the Bradley University Braves. They were unable to outduel the Braves and lost their first home game of the season in an 84-49 route.
Bradley opened up the game with an avalanche that left the Leathernecks on their heels. The Braves took a 25-11 lead into the second quarter and only kept their foot on the pedal into halftime. Head coach JD Gravina spoke about the Braves’ early push and what was different from what he saw in the film room during preparation for the game.
“The first thing is that they were a lot better than I expected and better than I thought they looked on film,” Gravina said. “That happens early in the year but especially their starting group or top six, they were way more physical than they looked on film. I thought they just came in and kind of manhandled us, both on the defensive end and on the boards.”
Bradley extended the lead to 46-19, holding the Leathernecks to only four made shots in the first half. Gravina has taken pride in his coaching on the mental aspect of the game during his entire coaching career but he felt his team did not weather the storm on their home court.
“I just thought we kind of looked like deer in the headlights,” Gravina said. “They came out and punched us in the face, metaphorically. How you react to that is like a boxer. You get punched once in the face that first time, you get startled and step back on your heels which we were, or you come back swinging. I think by the time we actually came back out swinging, it was too late and we were completely out of rhythm. We didn’t really know how to do it in the appropriate manner. You fight back by setting a good quality screen, not just hacking and reaching. So, I was pretty disappointed by the mental aspect of it and it’s something we have to get better at.”
The Braves defense was one of the most suffocating the Leathernecks have faced all season and it showed on the shot chart as they shot only 13.3 percent in both the first and second quarter. Gravina spoke about what went wrong on the offensive side of the ball and what the nearly unbreakable Brave defense did right.
“Everything,” Gravina said. “A lot of it was adjusting to their physicality. They took one player and really helped at the basket. We didn’t do a good job of finding the player that they weren’t guarding.”
The Leathernecks were outrebounded 59-35 in this game and they were outrebounded 56-34 in their previous game against the Purdue University Boilermakers. Sophomore forward Evan Zars is the team’s top rebounder and she was only able to pull down 8 in the game. Her counterpart from Bradley, senior forward Chelsea Brackmann, snagged 12 in the matchup. Rebounding was an area where Gravina felt they improved this season but he said that the frustration of the game and shock of being down hurt their rebounding numbers.
“The frustrating thing was, sometimes you just get out jumped or out-muscled for the ball but we just looked like we were back on our heels with rebounding. Completely reactive,” Gravina said.
After a tough blowout loss to the Braves, things stay increasingly difficult for the team. That’s because they’ll be heading back on the road to take on the Drake University Bulldogs this Sunday at 2 p.m. Gravina stressed the importance of using this game as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a more complete team down the stretch this season.
“Honestly, it’s one of those games we’ve got to learn from and we’ve got to get better because Drake is the exact same way but a little bit better on paper,” Gravina said.
The teams have played each other three times and the Bulldogs have come out on top every time. Last year, back on Nov. 10, Drake won in a convicingly fashion with a 98-71 scoreline.
The Bulldogs come into the game with a 3-1 record with wins over South Dakota State (74-67), Iowa State (86-81) and Creighton (63-53). Their lone loss was a 102-94 game against the South Dakota University Coyotes.
Gravina said that the Bulldogs may be an even tougher task than the Braves and that’s because anyone on the floor can shoot the ball. Drake’s starting five all average at least 25 points per game so far. The five starters team up for a .515 field goal percentage and .367 percent from behind the arc.
As a team, they average 79.3 points per game, holding their opposition to 75.8 points on average as well. Altogether, the team averages 9.3 three-pointers per game which is something the Leathernecks will have to watch out for.
Statistically, Drake is an even better team than Bradley. So, expect another uphill battle from Western. They’ll have to get off to a better start this Sunday than they did on Wednesday against the Braves.
“Everything that Bradley made us look bad at, Drake does as well,” Gravina said. But I think the good thing is, we want to go to Drake and get better. So, I think our frame of what is success changes. I think that, in a way, it’s a good way of preparing us because we want to go in there and show we are not the team we were tonight.”