The McKendree University women’s basketball team kicked off its Great Lakes Valley Conference schedule Thursday night with a 72-55 victory at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The Bearcats took the lead midway through the second quarter and never looked back in winning their first GLVC opener since the 2013-14 season. McKendree, which has won three of its last four games, improved to 4-2 on the season and will return to St. Louis on Saturday afternoon for another conference contest at Maryville University.
“We talked about playing better on both ends of the floor, and we really picked up the intensity on the defensive end in practice this week,” said McKendree head coach Kari Kerkhoff. “We challenged our players to force the tempo and force the action. They came out and really put it together in the final three quarters tonight. This is a great way to open up our conference season.”
McKendree shot 50.8 percent for the contest, hitting 30 of 59 field-goal attempts. McKendree also forced 19 UMSL turnovers and held a 19-6 edge in points off turnovers.
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Sophomore guard Sydney Diekhoff led the Bearcats with 21 points, while junior guard Jordan Heberg added 10 of her 12 points in the first half while leading McKendree with six rebounds. Junior guard Madison Hart came off the bench and had nine points and four rebounds, while sophomore guard Callie Pohlman dished out a game-high four assists in the win.
Missouri-St. Louis got off to a fast start, shooting nearly 59 percent in the first quarter. McKendree nearly matched the pace at 53.3 percent, but the Tritons were able to surge out to a 23-16 lead after 10 minutes of action. UMSL pushed its lead to as many as eight points in the early stages in the second quarter before McKendree battled back. The Bearcats ripped off 10 consecutive points to take a 30-28 advantage with 3:07 remaining until halftime. Diekhoff had five points in the spurt, which ended on a three-pointer from Heberg.
The Tritons ended a four-minute dry spell with a three-pointer at the 2:47 mark to take its last lead of the night at 31-30. McKendree then closed the half by scoring the final seven points of the period to finish off a 17-3 run that sent the Bearcats into the locker room with a 37-31 lead.
McKendree carried its momentum into the opening moments of the third quarter by putting together a 15-2 run to stretch its lead to 52-33 with 4:26 remaining in the period. Diekhoff again provided the spark during the burst with seven points.
The Bearcats took a 56-42 lead into the fourth quarter and grabbed its largest lead of the contest, 72-52, on a three-pointer from freshman guard Haley Zylka with just under a minute to play. In all, 14 different Bearcat players saw action in the contest, with 10 finding the scoring column in the balanced attack.
Alex LaPorta led UMSL with 13 points and a game-high 17 rebounds. Arielle Jackson added 14 points and three assists for the Tritons. McKendree and UMSL will meet again Jan. 12 at the Statham Center.