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UNK women battle toward MIAA tournament

UNK Women Basketball

The Health and Sports Center hosted a prime matchup Feb. 18 as the UNK women’s basketball team in the coaches poll went up against the Central Missouri Jennies. UNK ranked No. 12 in the coaches poll and No. 14 in the media poll heading into the game. The Jennies fended off UNK in a tightly contested game 66-70.

UNK struggled in the second quarter, shooting 2-19 from the field.

“They switched up and went zone, and we struggled a little bit early on,” said head coach Carrie Eighmey. “We got stagnant and that’s on me first as a coach. We did not handle that zone well in the second quarter.”

The Lopers opened well, picking up a nine-point lead in the first quarter and ending the quarter up against the Jennies 17-10. The Jennies responded with a 16-1 run in the second quarter to take the lead into halftime at 22-26.

UNK kept the game close in the third quarter, briefly taking a three-point lead midway through. With the Lopers trailing 40-41 with 2:03 to go in the quarter, Central Missouri forward Nija Collier scored seven straight points to extend the lead to 40-48. The Lopers trailed 43-51 at the end of the quarter following a buzzer-beater three-pointer by Loper guard Haley Simental.

Simental went 4-9 from the three-point line in the game; the Lopers shot 10-28 as a team from behind the arc.

“We made ten [three-pointers] on the game against the zone,” Eighmey said. “Typically that’s a helpful thing as it stretches the zone out, which it did, and we were able to attack the paint a little bit more.”

The Lopers started the fourth quarter attacking the paint with forward Elisa Backes, who scored UNK’s first six points. The Lopers found themselves trailing by 10 points most of the quarter. A three-pointer from Simental with 3:19 to play cut the lead to six points and another three-pointer by Backes cut the lead to two with 1:04 to go.

The Lopers trailed 66-68 with 23 seconds to go and possession of the ball. Central Missouri guard Gigi McAtee stole the ball from Loper guard Klaire Kirsch with 14 seconds left on the clock. McAtee was fouled and went one for two at the free-throw line. After a missed three-pointer by Simental to tie the game the following possession, the Jennies were able to convert one last free throw to win the game 66-70.

“Games like this definitely make you better, and it helps highlight the things you need to keep working on,” Eighmey said.

Backes led the team with 18 points, followed by Kirsch with 16 and Simental with 14. Kirsch had a double-double as well, totaling up 15 rebounds. Jennies guard Olivia Nelson and forward Graycen Holden led their team, with each scoring 16 points. Collier contributed an additional 15 points.

The Lopers hosted the Lincoln University Tigers on Feb. 20 for their senior day game. UNK honored senior guards Kelsey Sanger and Shelby Megyeri for all the work that they have put in throughout their careers.

The coaching staff wanted to make sure they let the seniors go out on a high note.

“These games can be tricky unless you have a reason bigger than yourself to play, and today we had two seniors that we were honoring,” Eighmey said. “I think our team was really locked in to try to play in a way that said thank you to them and honored them in everything they did for our program over the last several years.”

UNK ended the first quarter with a bang as Kirsch hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to extend UNK’s lead to 21-7. The Lopers continued their lead into halftime 38-25 thanks to 10 point contributions from both Backes and Kirsch.

The Lopers continued to dominate in the second half, despite some comeback efforts from the Tigers. The Lopers substituted Megyeri in during the fourth quarter, and she made a left-handed layup with 2:01 left in the game to extend the lead to 78-50. The Lopers won the game 79-57.

“We felt like we had an advantage in the paint, and I thought we had several kids who did a good job attacking the paint and posting up hard,” Eighmey said.

Center Brooke Carlson led the Lopers with 20 points, and Backes finished with 16. Guard Niyah Jackson led the Tigers with 19 points.

UNK will be on the road next week as they face Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western State.

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GRANT TIGHE, Sports Editor
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