CARBONDALE — Another postseason game, and another strong forward to contain for SIU's women's basketball team.
The Salukis (16-14) face Milwaukee (20-11) Wednesday night at 7 in a first-round game of the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI). Four days after Wichita State's Rangie Bessard scored 30 points to help the Shockers eliminate SIU at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, comes 6-foot-2 junior Steph Kostowicz, a second team all-conference pick who led the Panthers in scoring (15.3 points per game) and rebounding (7.8 per game).
"I think she moves real well. She's more of a face-up player," SIU coach Cindy Stein said. "She can shoot the 3, but she can also put it on the floor and attack the basket. She's got some savvy around the basket."
Kostowicz shot 52.1 percent from the field and 76.7 percent at the free-throw line this season for Milwaukee, which reached the postseason for the second consecutive year for the first time in school history. Nearly half of her 242 rebounds this season came at the offensive end (95), and her 39 blocks in 31 games were the third-most in the Horizon League.
Kostowicz may launch it from behind the arc, as she's 14 of 57 on the year (24.6 percent), and has several capable shooters to pass off to. Guards Bailey Farley (48-110, 43.6 percent), Jenny Lindner (32-79, 40.5 percent) and Alexis Lindstrom (62-158, 39.2 percent) all shot 39 percent or better from the 3-point line this season. Kostowicz's 71 assists are tied for the second-most on the team entering Milwaukee's first-ever meeting with the Salukis.
"Her leadership has really taken on a strong stance this year," fifth-year coach Kyle Rechlicz said. "She's engaging with her teammates so much more, and that's helped her develop an inside-outside game. When we need somebody to score, the ball usually finds its way into her hands, and I have a lot of faith that she's going to come through for us."
Milwaukee won five of its last eight games, including an 82-60 victory over Oakland in its first game of the Horizon League tournament. The fifth-seeded Panthers were eliminated in the semifinals by top-seeded Green Bay, 66-59. Milwaukee returned three starters off last season's 19-2 win club that qualified for the WNIT. Recklicz, a former Wisconsin assistant, was named the Horizon League coach of the year.
All five starters average between 8-15 points per game, and all but one, senior guard Sierra Ford-Washington, shot over 40 percent this season. Ford-Washington shot 39.1 percent.
"All their kids can shoot 3s," Stein said. "They're really smart ballplayers. Defensively, they pack it in and have great help. They don't give you any easy looks. Our ball-movement is going to be really important. Taking care of the ball is going to be really important."
The winner of Wednesday's game will play either Campbell (21-9) or St. Francis (Pennsylvania) (16-14) on Saturday or Sunday on the road. Campbell is located about 45 miles south of Raleigh, North Carolina, while St. Francis is two hours east of Pittsburgh in Loretto.