CEDAR FALLS — Injuries have and continue to impact the fortunes of the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team.
In its regular-season finale, a 54-53 loss at Illinois State, UNI (19-11, 12-6) arranged a ceremonial layup to begin the game for injured senior Ellie Herzberg (knee).
“That’s something that I will always cherish and always remember to be able to do that for (Ellie),” UNI Coach Tanya Warren said. “We’re extremely thankful to Illinois State.”
Between Mikaela Morgan, Rose Simon-Ressler, Megan Maahs, Kam Finley and Herzberg, a combined 58 games have been missed because of injury.
“For this team to be on the cusp of winning 19 games is really a testament and a credit to these young women,” Warren said.
The third-seeded Panthers take on sixth-seeded Southern Illinois (15-14, 8-10) Friday night at 8:30 (ESPN+) in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals in Moline, Ill. UNI swept the season series against the Salukis with 65-53 and 76-67 wins.
Southern Illinois is led by Makenzie Silvey (14.3 ppg) and Nicole Martin (14.8) and Warren described how difficult it is to limit the Salukis’ high-scoring duo.
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“They have one of the (league’s) best guards in Silvey who can shoot the 3 with great range,” Warren said. “She’s able to put the basketball on the floor. She never stops moving. She’s going to be a handful for us to guard on the perimeter, and then Nicole Martin we know is one of the (league’s) best post players with her athleticism.”
Warren said mixing up double-teams will be important against the Salukis, but perhaps more important than anything will be the Panthers’ ability to take care of the basketball after struggling at times during the regular season with ball security.
“I didn’t think we did a very good job of (ball security) down the stretch at their place so I’m pretty sure they’re going to press us,” Warren said. “You have two of your better ball handlers out so we have to have some other kids willing to step up and handle the basketball and take pride in that.
“It’s going to be a community in terms of being able to handle the basketball because we have to take some pressure off of Karli (Rucker).”
Rucker, UNI’s sophomore guard, was named to the All-MVC first team this week after finishing ninth in points per game (14.3) and second in assists (4.0) in the league. She also collected three double-doubles this season.
Ellie Howell is second on the team at 10.6 points per game.