CARBONDALE — SIU's women's basketball team will open its Missouri Valley Conference schedule at home against Valparaiso on New Year's Eve. The league unveiled all 10 teams' conference schedules Wednesday.
The Salukis host Loyola two days later, on Jan. 2 at the Banterra Center, in one of only three Friday/Saturday swings during their 18-game slate. SIU has five Thursday games, three of them on the road, in a bit of a move from the MVC's traditional Friday/Sunday schedules of the past. The Salukis are scheduled to go to Drake on Jan. 13, go to Indiana State on Jan. 27, and go to Loyola on March 3, all Thursday games. SIU has only three Sunday games, the home conference opener against the Ramblers, at home against Drake on Feb. 13 and at Illinois State on Feb. 20.
SIU (9-16 overall, 5-13 MVC last season) plays travel partner Missouri State on the road Friday, Jan. 7, and at the Banterra Center on Friday, Feb. 4. If the Salukis can survive road trips to Missouri State, Iowa (Drake and Northern Iowa) and Indiana (Indiana State and Evansville) in January, they have five of seven February contests at home. The Salukis are set to host Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Drake (Feb. 11/13) and Indiana State and Evansville (Feb. 24/26). SIU closes the regular season at Loyola and Valparaiso on March 3 and 5, respectively.
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The 2022 MVC Tournament is scheduled for March 10-13 at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline.
With five returning starters and four seniors back, SIU coach Cindy Stein lined up a non-conference schedule that could give the Salukis a shot at an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament in her final season. Stein announced earlier this year she intends to retire after the 2021-22 season.
The Salukis will open at Tennessee in the first meeting between the two programs since 1989, will host Illinois for the first time since 2014 and play at Indiana. The Lady Vols, coached by former Missouri State leader Kellie Harper, went 17-8 last season and return four starters, including 6-foot-1 guard/forward Rae Burrell, who was named the 24th-best player in the country by ESPN.com earlier this year. Illinois went 2-16 in the Big 10 Conference and 5-18 overall last season, and Indiana comes off one of its best seasons ever after reaching its first Elite Eight in 2021.
Burrell started all 25 games for the Lady Vols last season and averaged 16.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. She shot 45.8% from the field, 40.2% from the 3-point line (a team-best 39 of 97) and 82.5% at the free-throw line (66 of 80). Harper added a heavy recruiting class to go with nine returning players, led by graduate transfer forward Alexus Dye (16.6 ppg., 12.6 rpg.) from Troy. Dye led the NCAA in rebounding, grabbing 352, and led the country in double-doubles with 23. Tennessee also added four outstanding freshmen, Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year Brooklyn Miles, Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year Sara Puckett, Kaiya Wynn, the Texas Class 5A Player of the Year, and 6-3 forward Karoline Striplin, who finished second in the Alabama Player of the Year voting to Puckett.
SIU is 0-2 lifetime against Tennessee, losing in Knoxville, Tennessee, 78-44 in 1989. The Salukis lost to the Lady Vols 56-54 at a tournament in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in their last meeting in 1984. Indiana received a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and finished 21-6. Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes and senior guard Grace Berger were both first team All-Big 10 and the program's first honorable mention All-Americans. SIU has also committed to the Compass Challenge in Macomb, road trips to Kansas City and Southeast Missouri State, and a home date against IUPUI.
SIU's Makenzie Silvey (14.7 ppg., 64 assists, 38 3-pointers) returns after earning her first all-conference first team honor last season. Silvey enters her additional season from the NCAA within striking distance of Cartaesha Macklin's all-time scoring mark of 1,779 points set in 2016. Forward Abby Brockmeyer, the team's leading rebounder (8.3 per game) and second-leading scorer (14.3 ppg.) returns after missing all but 12 games last season because of COVID-19-related issues or injuries. The Salukis also return forward Gabby Walker (10.4 ppg., 4 rpg.), guard Payton McAllister (8 ppg., 2.7 rpg., 41 3s) and two other players that started 17 and 16 games, respectively, guard Caitlin Link and Adrianna Katcher.
SIU played most of last season without two other key pieces due to injury, 6-1 forward Awa Keita and 6-1 forward Janelle Douvier, a two-time all-conference pick at Pratt (Kansas) Community College. Keita averaged 9.8 minutes a game in 2019-20 in 29 games. Douvier played in only 12 games last season but could add to the team's frontcourt depth. SIU also signed four freshmen for the upcoming season.
On Twitter: @THefferman