ST. CHARLES, Mo. - A strong first start and big offensive games from two senior starters helped the Northern Iowa women's basketball team advance to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals.
Conference Player of the Year Jacqui Kalin scored 22 points, dished out six assists and pulled down eight rebounds, while Amber Kirschbaum's double-double also helped propel the Panthers to a 71-60 win over Indiana State at Family Arena on Friday.
"She has been very good the last month of the season," UNI coach Tanya Warren said of Kirschbaum. "She's finally healthy and she's really been putting in the extra time to get better. She realizes her career is coming to a close and wants to do everything she can to make it special."
It was the third consecutive win over the Sycamores this year for UNI, which improved to 16-15 on the year. The Panthers will next face top-seeded Wichita State in Saturday's semifinals.
"We can't let their defense dictate their offense," said Warren about the matchup with the Shockers. "They are very good and very well-coached. They defend and we are looking forward to this challenge tomorrow."
Kalin scored in double-figures for the 13th consecutive game. She was 6-of-11 from the floor and made all eight of her free-throw attempts in the win. She also hit a big 3 in the closing minutes to secure the win.
Missouri Valley Conference semifinals
At Family Arena, St. Charles, Mo.
Northern Iowa (16-15) vs. Wichita St. (22-9), 1:35 p.m.
"At any point in the game my teammates know I want the ball, and I am going to try to make something happen," Kalin said. "In that moment, It's no different than any other time. You have to take what the defense gives you."
Kirschbaum led all scorers with a season-high 23 points and the senior from Storm Lake also yanked down 10 rebounds. Brooke Brown finished with 10 points as well, scoring in double-figures for just the fifth time this year and the first time since Jan. 18.
The Panthers never trailed Friday against Indiana State (18-12). UNI jumped out to a 7-0 lead and held the Sycamore scoreless for the first 6 minutes. UNI pushed the advantage to 18-9 with 8 to go in the first half and then held off an Indiana State run with an 8-0 spurt to end the half.
The Sycamores cut their deficit to 22-20 but the late run by the Panthers gave them a 10-point lead at the break.
"It took a lot in the first seven minutes just to get any kind of flow," Indiana State coach Teri Moren said. "I thought we took some tough shots. Needless to say, this is a group that has battled back, so we, as a staff, were waiting for that to happen - and it did."
Indiana State got as close as four in the second half, but UNI was perfect from the line in the final two minutes and sealed yet another win over one of its rivals. The Panthers' largest lead was 16 at the 10:38 mark of the second half.
The Panthers shot 44 percent from the floor and made six 3-pointers while connecting on 19 of their 21 freebies. They also out-rebounded Indiana State 42-32 and won despite turning it over 15 times and getting just three points from their bench.
Racheal Mahan led four Sycamores in double-figures with 17 points and nine boards, while Anna Munn added 14 points and five rebounds. Natasha Zurek had 12 of the Sycamores' 16 bench points and Taylor Whitley also scored 10 in the loss.
"I knew my job coming into this game was to try and block her down, and I stayed on her the whole time," Brown said of guarding Munn. "It was definitely a team defense though."
ISU turned it over just six times in the game but hit only 32 percent of its shots and was 2-of-12 from long range.
Wichita State defeated Drake 73-58 on Friday to advance to play the Panthers. UNI and the Shockers will tip off today at 1:35 p.m.
"It means a lot," said Kalin of playing in the semifinals. "It feels really, really good sitting in this seat, looking out with the win. It feels really good. I couldn't be more proud of my girls."