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Staying off the bubble: Women’s basketball carries momentum into postseason play

KOSUKE YOSHII / ANTELOPE STAFF Klaire Kirsch received All-MIAA honorable mention for the third time in her career.

In a crucial game for NCAA tournament hopes, the UNK women’s basketball team faced off against Missouri Western State. The Lopers were down by five entering halftime, but hot 3-point shooting and only two turnovers in the second half led them to a 75-64 win.

The victory improved the Lopers’ record to 22-6. Prior to the final two games, the Lopers were seventh and the Griffons were eighth in the NCAA central region rankings.

“I thought we did enough in the first half to stay in striking distance,” UNK coach Carrie Eighmey said. “We had a couple really long stretches where we were able to get stops, which kinda kept us in it.”

The second-half shooting spree was led by Elisa Backes and Trinity Law. Backes went 5-5 from the 3-point line in the second half and scored 24 points on the night. Law went 3-4 from the field in the second half and finished with 18 points.

“Second half I thought we came out and we just adjusted,” Eighmey said. “We ran some different stuff and allowed our players to kind of just make reads and make some plays. We just had a lot of people step up.”

The matchup against the Griffons was the final career home game for the Lopers’ two seniors, Haley Simental and Grace O’Neill. Simental has started every game this season and has been a major part of the team’s success.

“I can’t say enough good things about how she’s helped our program,” Eighmey said. “It was on its way up when she got here, but she’s helped us take it to a completely different level.”

Simental hasn’t only made her presence known through scoring, but also by being the key orchestrator of the UNK offense during her time with the Lopers.

“She’s been such a great teammate; she’s a great player, but she’s an even better person,” Eighmey said. “She’s a point guard, but she’s a scorer and she’s ran our team for the last three years.”

O’Neill hasn’t had the same direct impact on the team as Simental, but she has shown her work ethic and leadership through her one year with the Lopers.

“Grace has just been a one-year kid, but she is phenomenal,” Eighmey said. “She’s such a hard worker and she is just a great example of what it looks like to show up and give great effort every single day.”

Prior to the season finale victory on Friday, UNK took on Northwest Missouri State. The Lopers left the Health and Sports Center with a 68-51 victory.

Center Brooke Carlson led the way, with a career-high 23 points on 11-15 shooting, in only 27 minutes.

“We were able to feed Brooke in the post and she was phenomenal in there today,” Eighmey said. “She was able to play with great pace.”

Carlson had 14 of her 23 points in the second half and was a force of havoc in the paint, as the Lopers continued getting her into scoring positions.

“When she can get touches around the rim and have opportunities to be able to go one-on-one, she’s a tough matchup for a lot of people,” Eighmey said.

UNK had a well-rounded approach against the Bearcats, exploring lineups and showing a variety of different looks.

“We’re able to match other teams,” Eighmey said. “If they wanna go big, we can go big. If they wanna go small, we have the ability to do that.”

The Lopers and Bearcats will meet again soon, as third-seeded UNK will take on Northwest Missouri in the MIAA conference tournament on Friday in Kansas City. 

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KEVIN BURD, Sports Edior
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