Panthers advance to quarterfinals

This is the first time in program history that the Panther women have advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.

DAVID WARRINGTON

This past weekend, the UNI Panthers women’s basketball team competed in the first two rounds of the 2021 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, competing at the UW Health Sports Factory in Rockford, Ill. UNI took on the Dayton Flyers in the first game, while taking on the Creighton Bluejays in the second game. The Panthers came in with a record of 14-12 on the season, whereas the Flyers entered 14-3 and came off of a runner-up finish in the Atlantic-10 conference tournament. Despite having nine more losses on the year than their opponents, the Panthers put together a fantastic game, ultimately coming away with a 70-56 win in the first-round matchup.

The Panthers started slowly, falling behind 7-2 to start the game. However, junior Kam Finley gave UNI the spark they needed, hitting three consecutive threes to give the Panther women an 11-7 advantage. They held a seven-point lead after one quarter of play, 20-13. They managed to extend their lead in the second quarter, going into halftime leading by the score of 39-29.

Midway through the third quarter, the Flyers showed signs of life, going on an 8-0 run to get within 44-39. Feeling the lost momentum, Finley once again made a timely play, hitting another three to spark a 6-0 run, returning the momentum firmly into UNI’s corner. The Panthers led 50-43 entering the final quarter of play.

Freshman Kayba Laube stepped up in a big way early in the fourth quarter, hitting back-to-back three pointers to give UNI a 13-point advantage. The Panthers cruised the rest of the way, giving the Flyers just their fourth loss of the year in a 70-56 victory.

Finley had a standout game for UNI. In 27 minutes coming off of the bench, Finley scored 23 points, hitting five of her seven shot attempts from behind the three-point line. Laube also had a nice game, scoring nine points in just 10 minutes of play, hitting three of four three-point attempts.

With the victory, the Panthers move to 15-12 on the season. UNI moved on to the second round of the WNIT, taking on the Creighton Bluejays on Saturday, March 20. The Bluejays entered the game with a record of 10-11, coming off of a victory over the Bowling Green Falcons in the first round, 72-65.

The UNI women managed to hold the lead throughout the majority of the first quarter, although it was a small lead, never leading by more than two. The Panthers extended their lead to as much as eight in the second quarter, but a late run by the Bluejays gave UNI just a two-point advantage at the half, 33-31.

The game remained tight throughout the third quarter. The Bluejays managed to get within one point late in the quarter, trailing the Panthers 48-47 heading into the fourth. The teams traded baskets multiple times throughout the final quarter, with the Bluejays getting within one point on several occasions. Creighton took the lead with just 10 seconds left when Tatum Rembao knocked down a jump shot. Needing a basket to stay alive, Emerson Green made a layup with just four seconds left to clinch the UNI victory, 64-63.

The leading scorer for the Panthers was Megan Maahs, finishing with 20 points to go along with five rebounds. Karli Rucker also managed double figure scoring, finishing with 13 points as well as a team-leading nine rebounds. Finley had another strong performance off of the bench, scoring nine points while also picking up a team-high six assists.

With the win, the Panthers improve to 16-12 on the season and have advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT for the first time in program history. The Panther women will hit the hardwood for quarterfinal play on Monday, March 22 at 7 p.m. when they take on the Saint Louis Billikens. Like the first two tournament games, this matchup will also take place at the UW Health Sports Factory. The Billikens are currently 14-4 on the season and are coming off of wins against DePaul and Milwaukee.