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SIU head coach Cindy Stein applauds her team's effort in the third quarter against Martin Methodist at SIU Arena on earlier this season.

CARBONDALE — The SIU women's basketball team closes out its nonconference schedule with two games in two days in Puerto Rico, beginning Tuesday afternoon.

The Salukis (5-4) take on defending America East Conference tournament champion Albany (8-2) at 1 p.m. in San Juan in a battle of two experienced squads. SIU has only one senior, guard/forward Kylie Giebelhausen (13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds a game), but returns seven other players from last season's participant in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI). The Great Danes return three starters and nine letterwinners from last season's NCAA Tournament team, and has started the same five players in every game.

"We play a very talented Albany team, so we have to be ready to go, and not just be tourists," said SIU coach Cindy Stein. "But that's part of the learning phase. We have young kids that just went through their first week of collegiate finals."

Three of SIU's four freshmen have started at some point this season for the up-and-down squad. The Salukis have won three road games already (they won seven all last season) and ended a two-game winning streak in a 75-49 home loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 10.

Freshman forward Abby Brockmeyer and sophomore forward Nicole Martin lead SIU in rebounding at 7.1 per game, and are two of the team's top-four scorers. Brockmeyer, who has started all nine games, averages 10.1 points per game and leads the Salukis with 11 blocks. Martin, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman Team, averages 11.4 points per game.

Albany is led by senior forward Jessica Fequiere (19.1 points per game), the AEC's top scorer and a preseason all-conference pick, and point guard Mackenzie Trpcic. Trpcic, a 5-7 sophomore, was named AEC player of the week after scoring a career-high 21 points and handing out nine assists. It was her fifth game this season with eight or more assists.

"They're very talented. They play really well together," Stein said. "I think their post play is very good, and then they have that guard that's averaging about 20 points a game. Defensively, we're always challenged, and we'll continue to get better."

Albany has won four straight games entering the round-robin tournament. SIU has won two of its last three games.

Kennesaw State, which went 10-20 last season in the Atlantic Sun Conference, have won three of its last four games. Forward Carlotta Gianolla, the league's freshman of the year after averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 boards a game last season, is averaging 9.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a game this season.

SIU opens Valley play at Evansville on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. The Salukis don't return home until Jan. 5, when they face Northern Iowa at 6 p.m.

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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