Panthers win two games in Cancun

DREW HILL, Opinion Columnist

The UNI women’s basketball team traveled to Cancun, Mexico, for games on Nov. 24 and 25. They faced the Tulane Green Wave and the Vanderbilt Commodores. They came away with wins in both games, tying with North Carolina State for the best record in the Riviera Tournament section of the Cancun Challenge. UNI bounced back from two home losses to ranked opponents in Iowa State and Creighton to improve to 4-2 on the young season.

UNI entered the Cancun Challenge 2-2. Tulane entered the tournament 3-1. Early on in this one, the Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead. After Tulane cut the lead to 9-5, UNI went on a 6-0 run to take their first double-digit lead of the game at 15-5. At the end of the first quarter, UNI was up 21-10.

Early in the second quarter, the Panthers experienced more of the same. A Kam Finley 3-pointer stretched the lead to 24-10. Soon, UNI’s lead ballooned into a 19-point lead at 32-13. The Green Wave went on a run towards the end of the quarter to get the lead back down to 13 at 39-26.

The game was far from over, however. Tulane used a 12-2 run to cut the Panther lead to three in just under four minutes at 41-38. UNI managed to keep at least a 3-point barrier between them and the Green Wave, and a Cynthia Wolf 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the third quarter finally got UNI back up double-digits at 61-50.

The fourth quarter saw the Panthers put their foot on the gas and roar ahead. After Tulane got within 10 at 64-54, UNI used an 18-2 run to go up by 26 points at 82-56. Tulane scored a couple more baskets, but UNI cruised on to the 82-60 win. Maya McDermott led UNI in scoring with 20 points. Finley contributed 15 points, and Grace Boffeli had a near double-double with 14 points and eight rebounds. Wolf led the team in rebounding and assists, grabbing 13 boards and dishing out five assists to go with her six points.

Vanderbilt had a 5-0 start to the season, but a loss just before the tournament and a loss in their first game of the Cancun Challenge to North Carolina State had dropped them to 5-2. This game saw UNI get out to a rough start, as Vanderbilt took a 13-0 lead after five minutes. However, once UNI started scoring, it was Vanderbilt who went cold. UNI answered with an 11-0 run in the next three minutes to cut the lead to two at 13-11. The game was tied at 15-15, and UNI took a 16-15 lead on a Finley free throw. Vanderbilt scored once more, and the quarter ended with Vanderbilt on top 17-16.

The second quarter began with cold shooting by both teams, as the first two minutes went by scoreless. UNI once again tied it at 21-21, and the two teams stayed close. At the 2:15 mark, UNI finally regained the lead at 28-26. The teams traded leads a few more times before UNI’s Cailyn Morgan tied it up at 32-32 to end the half.

In the third quarter, UNI took the first lead, which stretched out to five at 37-32. However, the Commodores fought back and regained the lead at 40-39. The quarter ended with Vanderbilt on top 48-46.

Vanderbilt got up by as much as five early on in the fourth, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Kayba Laube and McDermott gave UNI a 53-52 lead. After battling back-and-forth, UNI eventually got up four at 62-58 with two minutes remaining in the game. However, Vanderbilt once again tied it back up with just under 30 seconds left. As time expired, Emerson Green splashed the game-winning 3-pointer to give UNI the 65-62 win. It gave UNI their first win over a Power Five team since 2019. 

Boffeli had a double-double to lead the Panthers with 15 points and 10 rebounds, with Wolf also contributing 10 rebounds. McDermott was the other UNI player to score in double figures with 10 points. Along with Green’s game-winning buzzer-beater, she also led the team in assists with four. 

Coach Tanya Warren said after the game, “We have shown that we can play in a variety of ways. Yesterday it was pace, pace, pace. Today it was more of a grind, we had to mix it up defensively and try and get them off balance. But I thought we got contributions from everybody and this is a great team win.”

UNI’s next game will be on Saturday, Dec. 3, in Brookings, S.D., against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.