CARBONDALE — SIU's second straight run in the Women's Basketball Invitational ended in the opening game Wednesday, as Milwaukee shot 55.9 percent from the field in an 81-53 win at the Klotsche Center.
The Panthers (21-11) led by only six at the half, but opened it up to 11 early in the third after holding the Salukis (16-16) to only seven points. Milwaukee sank 10 of 19 from the 3-point line and led by as much as 28 points before the final margin.
"We couldn't score. I think you gotta give a lot of credit to their defense, as well," SIU coach Cindy Stein said. "They packed it in on us. We weren't getting easy looks. They did a great job on (Kylie) Giebelhausen, completely shut her down, and we had trouble scoring."
Giebelhausen, SIU's leading scorer this season at 13.9 points per game, made just 4 of 11 from the field and finished with 11 points.
Freshman forward Nicole Martin's career-high 19 points led SIU, which suffered its third-biggest loss of the season in the finale. The Salukis fell by 32 points in the opener at nationally-ranked Oklahoma and by 30 at Northern Iowa Jan. 6, but entered last week's Missouri Valley Conference tournament on a four-game winning streak.
SIU lost in its first game in Moline, 73-60 to Wichita State Friday in the quarterfinals, and by double digits again on Wednesday.
Milwaukee got 16 points from forward Steph Kostowicz with a game-high 12 rebounds. Kostowicz made 7 of 12 from the field, as the Panthers shot 55.9 percent for the game (33 of 59). Freshman forward Lizzie Odegard added 13 points, and senior guard/forward Jordyn Swan, who had nine 3-pointers all season entering the game, drilled 3 of 5 behind the arc on the way to 11 points.
"They obviously shot real well, and some of it was just great shooting and other times it was defensive breakdowns," Stein said. "We've talked all year about our defense and how it needs to get better, and against teams like that, you can't make mistakes. And, unfortunately, we made too many mistakes."
SIU had 14 assists and only eight turnovers in Milwaukee, but shot just 38.3 percent from the field (23 of 60). Senior starters Rishonda Napier and Kim Nebo scored five points each in their final games. Senior guard Carlie Corrigan missed all six of her shots and went scoreless off the bench.
SIU could return three starters next season, and eight of its top 11 players, but left Wisconsin Wednesday night disappointed after another early exit. The Salukis lost their WBI opener last season on a last-second shot at Western Illinois.
"Obviously, it was disappointing. I didn't feel like we were all fully engaged in preparation, and that was my biggest disappointment," Stein said. "You feel badly for Kim and Carlie and Rishonda, but that's also youth, and we've gotta train them to think better. Our plan is to go to the postseason every year. We've gotta get more disciplined, prepare better, and we've gotta grow up. We've gotta be a lot tougher."