CEDAR FALLS — A cold night of shooting stunted Northern Iowa’s chances at upsetting 25th-ranked Missouri State on Friday at McLeod Center.
The Bears (5-2, 1-0 MVC), who last played on Dec. 19 due to COVID-19 postponements, looked anything but rusty in their Missouri Valley Conference opener, running past the Panthers, 70-51.
“Really disappointed. I’m at a loss for words with our ability to shoot the basketball,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “I thought we played extremely scared the first quarter. You can’t do that against good teams. And then every time we got ourselves back in the ball game we would do something to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
UNI (6-6, 3-2) overcame its early shooting woes in the second and third quarters and outscored the Bears, going 14 of 30 from the field after connecting on just one of their first 18 attempts to begin the game.
After trailing 36-24 at halftime, UNI pulled within two possessions at 48-42 on Bre Gunnells’ layup with 2:04 left in the third quarter, but were unable to draw even due to defensive errors.
“We had just cut it (to six) and we leave a shooter. The scouting report literally says ‘shooter’ and we go help for no reason and they bury it,” Warren said. “Just uncharacteristic, bad plays at the wrong time. This is where this team has to grow and get better, because right now we continue to beat ourselves.”
Missouri State extended its 10-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run as UNI continued to struggle with ball security, committing 21 turnovers in the game and five in the final 10 minutes.
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“I thought we played a little ‘me’ ball in the fourth quarter,” Warren said. “They do a very good job of helping. They strong-side dig and when you get in (the interior) you’ve got to be able to shot-fake and then you’ve got to be able to kick out because they collapse.”
Missouri State’s Brice Calip led all scorers with 20 points and was joined in double-figures by Mya Bhinhar (12) and Jasmine Franklin (10).
Karli Rucker led UNI with 11 points, but struggled with turnovers and combined with fellow seniors Gunnells and Megan Maahs to go just 7 for 23 from the field.
“They’re just really big and athletic inside,” Rucker said. “Being able to dribble-drive, because we need to get in there to be able to kick to the shooters or get Cynthia (Wolf), Megan and Bre those easy bunnies inside. We’ve just got to be strong with the ball.”
UNI finishes its two-game regular season series against Missouri State at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+).