Women’s basketball face first round rematch against ORU

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

MACOMB, Ill. – It’s been a grueling 29-game season for the Western Illinois University women’s basketball program, but after ending with a 9-7 conference record, they find themselves as the No. 4 seed in The Summit League Tournament.

While the team ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak and barely went above .500 with a 15-14 overall record, none of that matters now. They made it into the playoffs and that’s what it’s all about.

The Leathernecks will be taking on the No. 5 seeded Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles and it’s a matchup that has a bit of history to it. Last year, Western made the tournament as the No. 5 seed and they took on No. 4-seeded ORU. Western lost that game back on March 10 of last year by a score of 68-64 and it closed the book on the Leathernecks’ 2018-19 campaign.

These two teams split their regular season meetings, each team defending their home court successfully. The first meeting was in Western Hall and the Leathernecks prevailed 75-61. ORU flipped the script in Tulsa, though, and came out on top 71-60.

Neither of those games were particularly high scoring, and that’s the kind of game that can probably be expected again when the two collide on Sunday.

In both of those contests, senior guard Olivia Kaufmann led the team for Western. Back on Jan. 18, she put up 21 points and seven rebounds and then put up another 20 points while on the road back on Friday.

The problem for the Leathernecks is that she can’t do it all by herself. She did have help in both games, but in one of them it just wasn’t enough.

Sophomore forward Evan Zars scored in the double digits both games as well as redshirt sophomore guard Danni Nichols. These three have been the main scoring for Western as of late but they’ll need a few more people to step up if they want to make it far in this tournament.

Other players have shown flurries of success, for instance, redshirt freshman Carla Flores put up 12 points in the away loss, but only four points inside Western Hall. Junior guard Grace Gilmore averages eight points per game but didn’t really do a whole lot in either of the meetings, scoring eight points at home and four on the road.

When Western played in Macomb they shot 43.1 percent from the field, but shot a mere 30.2 percent in Tulsa. That could more accurately explain the results. In both games, though, Western shot below 30 percent from behind the three-point line. If the Leathernecks can drain threes this Sunday, this one won’t even be close, but expect ORU to make Western work for every single point they put on the board.

Western will definitely have to watch out for the Golden Eagles’ main three. Junior guard Keni Jo Lippe leads ORU averaging 18.1 points per game, and she is followed by redshirt-senior Rylie Torrey with 13. Senior center Montserrat Brotons averages nine points a game, but can absolutely go off when she’s feeling it. The three combined for 86 points in the regular season matchups; it’s whether or not they can keep up that pace when it really matters. Neither of these teams are great away from home, Western posting a 4-9 record while ORU went 3-12 in the regular season on the road. Luckily for both teams, this one’s on neutral ground.

It’s the final game in a best of three series. Do the Leathernecks have a deep tournament run in them or will it be the Golden Eagles raining on their parade for the second year in a row?

That question will be answered starting at noon this Sunday from Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.