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UNI women’s basketball keeps rotation deep with MVC tournament up next
Panthers open conference tournament Friday against Illinois-Chicago or Valparaiso
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa is aiming for its first trip to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in six years as it enters the Missouri Valley Conference tournament as the No. 3 seed.
The Panthers (21-8, 16-4) play the winner of 6-seed Illinois-Chicago (17-14, 9-11) and 11-seed Valparaiso (7-22, 5-15) in the quarterfinals Friday night at 8:30 (ESPN+). The two potential opponents couldn’t be any different.
“They are drastically different,” UNI Coach Tanya Warren said. “We literally could start two different lineups depending on who we play.”
Illinois-Chicago, she said, “is extremely athletic. They’re going to guard you 94 feet. They’re going to pound it inside. (Valparaiso) is going to start five guards and they’re going to shoot 3s or get downhill and shoot layups. The mental reps really, really become extremely important for us.”
A part of UNI’s fluid lineup is the result of losing senior forward Cynthia Wolf to a season-ending injury two weekends ago at Murray State.
The Panthers won that game against the Racers, and their final two regular-season games last week against Southern Illinois and Missouri State.
Six-foot-3 junior forward Rachel Heittola has replaced Wolf in the starting lineup, but typical to Warren’s style, she continues to play a deep rotation at a time of the season when a majority of coaches are trimming theirs.
“One of the things we talked about in the huddle after Cynthia went down is the best way we could help Cynthia is to play our fannies off for her,” Warren said. “With our depth, not one person has to do everything, but everybody has to do a little bit of something. And I think that is what you’re starting to see and what’s taking place.”
Along with its depth, UNI has been able to attribute much of its success this season to a new offense.
The scheme emphasizes tempo, driving and creating shots for others. Led by sophomore point guard Maya McDermott — who was named the MVC’s most improved player and to its all-conference second team Wednesday — the offense has thrived.
“We go as (McDermott ) goes and I can’t say enough about the year that Maya’s had,” Warren said. “This is her time to shine and she’s done a terrific job. She’s a three-level scorer. Not only can she get downhill and shoot the 3 and shoot the floater, but the thing that Maya does really, really well is she makes those around her better with her ability to get her teammates the ball where they can score.”
Two other Panthers joined McDermott in receiving MVC honors. Sophomore forward Grace Bofelli — who led UNI with 16.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season — was named to the first team. Freshman forward Ryley Goebel — who led UNI in blocks (36) and steals (36) — was named to the all-freshman team.