This isn’t where the Southern Illinois University basketball team wanted to be.
Even with road wins at Indiana State and Evansville this past weekend the Salukis finished the regular season 15-14, 8-10 in Missouri Valley Conference play. SIU opens MVC tournament play with Northern Iowa at 8:30 p.m. tonight at Moline’s TaxSlayer Center.
“I don’t think anyone has been satisfied with this season,” said SIU coach Cindy Stein. “I think we’ve all been disappointed. The great thing is when you start postseason play everyone is 0-0 again.”
That 8-10 conference mark got SIU the sixth seed and they will play third-seeded Northern Iowa (17-9, 10-4). UNI defeated the Salukis 65-53 at Cedar Falls on February 1 and 76-67 in Carbondale on March 3. As the sixth seed, the Salukis knew they would draw UNI, Drake or Missouri State.
“I do think it’s hard to beat a team three times, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t ever get done,” Stein said about the UNI matchup. “We’re not superstitions. We don’t think the basketball gods have things a certain way this year.
“Our execution offensively and defensively will have to be spot on for us to beat UNI this year.”
SIU turned the ball over 17 times in the loss at Cedar Falls. The Salukis cut that figure down to a more manageable 11 in the second meeting, but SIU shot just 36 percent from the field in that games.
One key to defeating the Panthers is keeping point guard Karli Rucker under control. Rucker scored 11 in the first matchup but exploded for 28 points in the Panthers win at Carbondale. She was 8-of-14 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from the arc.
Forward Mikaela Morgan scored in double figures in both UNI wins.
“I feel like if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can compete with everybody in our league,” Stein said. “We just haven’t done it. It’s hard to brag about that if you haven’t done it.”
Offensively, the Salukis will have to get scoring from players other than Makenzie Silvey and Nicole Martin. Silvey scored 20 at UNI, but was the only SIU player to reach double figures. In the second meeting between the two teams, Martin led SIU with 18, Abby Brockmeyer scored 17 and Silvey had 15.
“We know that for the most part every team has tried to take away Martin and Silvey,
Stein said. “We know people are trying to take them out somehow. We know we have to have other kids step up. We wish we’d know who that would be. You have to have your third and fourth option ready to go.”
Another challenge for the Salukis will be the 8:30 p.m. starting time. SIU’s home games begin at 6 p.m.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” Stein said. “We’re going to try to manage this week. We’re practicing this week from 7-9 p.m.. I’m sure they’re used to being up at that time, I’ll probably need a Red Bull.”
Drake earned the top seed in the tournament. Missouri State is No. 2.
The winner of the SIU-UNI game draws the winner of Missouri State-Evansville/Loyola game at 4 p.m. on Saturday.