Story courtesy of Western Illinois University…
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Finding itself in an intense ‘back-and-forth’ battle on Monday evening (Nov. 29), Western Illinois women’s basketball (5-2, 0-0) ultimately fell on the road at Incarnate Word (2-3, 0-0).
Despite the loss, the evening ended as a special one for standout guard Danni Nichols. Late in the game, she reached over 1,000 career points as a Leatherneck, becoming the 20th player in program history to achieve such a feat.
“I can’t fault our effort,” acknowledged WIU head coach JD Gravina. “We had another really poor shooting night but still gave ourselves a chance to win. We won’t win many games going 4-28 from the three-point line, but shooting is probably the least thing you can control.
“Joining the 1,000-point club at the Division I level is a huge accomplishment. Danni has been such a great fit for our program. She is well-rounded, efficient, and understands our system. She has been an absolute joy to coach.”
Three different Leathernecks scored early for Western, but Incarnate Word used a balanced offense to make it a tied game at 10-10. Samantha Pryor started hot with back-to-back threes. Alissa Dins came on to jump for a steal and subsequently made a nice inside pass to Danni Nichols, who scored to put WIU up 14-10. However, the Cardinals stayed edgy on both ends, picking off a pass and taking its first lead of the night, 15-14. It would be short-lived, however, as Dins finished inside on WIU’s very next possession. UIW ended the first up 17-16.
A left-wing three happened for UIW immediately in the second quarter, before the team forced two consecutive turnovers. Nevertheless, Jada Thorpe and Evan Zars gave Western a quick pair of buckets, making it a tied matchup once again, 20-20. Shots inside the arc continued to fall for UIW, increasing its lead to 28-22. Pryor, Thorpe, and Elizabeth Lutz all posted more points for WIU. After getting into a loose-ball scramble, Pryor made a nice look at the rim off a pull-up jumper but couldn’t convert, with WIU heading into the break still down, 32-29.
Scoring the ball went unsuccessfully for nearly two minutes before UIW made a stretched layup in the third period. Nichols gave WIU momentum not long after — scoring back-to-back baskets on aggressive drives. Next, an entry pass to Zars for an uncontested layup gave Western its first lead since the 1:45 mark in the first quarter (35-34). UIW answered right back with a reverse layup and traded possessions soon took over. Being a period that showcased quite a few lead changes, Thorpe split her way through defenders to send in a running floater before the buzzer rang, tying things at 43-43.
The Cardinals leaped on a 7-0 run during the fourth quarter’s first three minutes. Thorpe scored three free throws, but UIW stayed confident in its shot-making. Lutz picked up the flow by making an off-hand layup and then stepping into a three before Zars finished at the rim. Leading by four, UIW called a timeout with 1:34 to go. Nichols then got fouled in transition and made both free throw tries before grabbing a steal and finishing to surge past 1,000 career points at 58 seconds. After a break on the floor for official review, UIW retook the lead on a turnaround hook shot and completed the night on free throws.
Nichols and Thorpe led the way offensively with 14 points apiece. Nichols additionally chipped in eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals to her impressive stat line. Zars finished with 10 points, six rebounds, and three steals on 5-7 shooting from the field. Lutz added nine points and four rebounds. Lutz, Nichols, and Thorpe all played for 34 minutes or more.
The annual Compass Challenge is next for Western, hosted by the Leathernecks this year (Dec. 3-4). Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, and Southern Illinois all come to town for the two-day event. WIU takes on NIU at 6 p.m. on Friday (Dec. 3) and will face either the winner or loser of the SIU-EU Friday contest on Saturday (Dec. 4), again at 6 p.m.