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Panthers bow to Missouri St, 89-64

Elle Ruffridge

MOLINE, Ill. — The opportunity to erase a forgettable second quarter came and went in the third, and the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team couldn’t capitalize on it.

Second-seeded Missouri State scored a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament record 35 points in the second quarter and eventually pulled away from No. 3 UNI for an 89-64 victory in Saturday’s semifinals at The TaxSlayer Center.

The Panthers (20-12) faced a 15-point halftime deficit and instantly chiseled it down to six with a 13-4 run to open the third quarter. A wide-open look at a layup went wanting, and Missouri State (22-9) stole the momentum back immediately. Danielle Gitzen knocked down a 3-pointer at the other end and the Lady Bears never led by less than nine points again.

Gitzen finished with a game-high 22 points to lead Missouri State, which earned a rubber match with top-seeded Drake (27-5) in today’s MVC championship game.

“I think we settled down a bit and put a lot of emphasis on defense,” Gitzen said of her team’s response to UNI’s third-quarter surge. “When we get stops then our offense kind of flows. [Head coach] Kellie [Harper] kind of got into us a little bit and really said we’ve got to hammer down and get stops.”

Gitzen’s 3-pointer kicked off a 15-6 run over the final 5:07 to close the third quarter for Missouri State, which seemingly had grabbed control of the game with a 35-point second period. Iowa native Elle Ruffridge, a sophomore guard, played a pivotal role in the Bears’ breakout, going 3-for-3 from 3-point range and contributing an offensive

rebound, a steal and an assist off the bench during the second.

“What a time to do it, right?” Ruffridge said. “Credit to all my teammates who found me. One of my big roles on the team is to shoot the ball and I did just that. It was awesome. We just kept flowing through it and feeding off each other offensively and defensively.”

UNI head coach Tanya Warren was less enthused.

“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” she said. “We’re usually pretty locked in on scouting report details, we went under several screens we were not supposed to go under, we never found Elle in the zone which was one of our priorities — just a lot of miscommunication, which is not typical of our team.”

Gitzen and Ruffridge both made four 3-pointers for the Bears, who shot 11-for-18 from distance and 50 percent from the field overall. Ruffridge, Iowa’s 2017 Miss Basketball from Pocahontas Area, finished with a career-high 14 points.

“To do it against a team from my home state is pretty special,” said Ruffridge. “I’m just so proud of this team and the most important thing is we’re moving on to tomorrow.”

Warren felt like her team missed its chance to do the same, but their third-quarter charge came up just short. The Panthers trailed by 13 when Karli Rucker and Taylor Hagen hit back-to-back buckets and Nicole Kroeger sank a 3-pointer to make it 47-41 with 6:39 left in the period.

The two teams traded a pair of free throws before Ruffridge missed a 3-pointer, and Northern Iowa got a great look at climbing back within four for the first time since early in the second quarter. Kroeger’s close-in shot was off target, and Gitzen scored seven of Missouri State’s next nine points to turn the tides again.

“That kind of takes the wind out of your sails and then you’ve got to work really hard defensively, and I think we went under a screen on Gitzen and she buried a three, so instead of having momentum, they get the momentum back and that’s the way it went,” said Warren. “We’re obviously disappointed with the results. I thought Missouri State was terrific from start to finish, and I didn’t think we did what we needed to do — especially to start the game — defensively, and our emphasis with rebounding, and then every time we made a mistake defensively they exploited it with their ability to shoot the basketball.”

Missouri State pounded the Panthers on the glass, outrebounding them 49-25 with 17 offensive rebounds that only resulted in 14 second-chance points for the Bears.

Northern Iowa was led by Rucker’s 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, but she was the team’s only double-digit scorer. Cynthia Wolf added nine points off the bench for UNI, which remained hopeful after the game for a postseason bid.

“I’m extremely proud of this team and what they were able to accomplish this season,” said Warren. “I’m proud of our seniors and their leadership, and hopefully we have not played our last game together.”

Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament

At The TaxSlayer Center, Moline, Ill.

First Round

Thursday, March 14

Valparaiso 79, Indiana St. 77

Loyola 90, Evansville 80

Quarterfinals

Friday, March 15

Drake 86, Valparaiso 58

Illinois St. 61, Bradley 55

Missouri St. 59, Loyola 50

Northern Iowa 66, Southern Illinois 63

Semifinals

Saturday, March 16

Drake 65, Illinois St. 54

Missouri St. 89, Northern Iowa 64

Championship

Sunday, March 17

No. 1 Drake (27-5) vs. No. 2 Missouri St. (22-9), 2:02 p.m. (ESPN+)

——

MISSOURI ST. 89, UNI 64

At Moline, Ill.

N. IOWA (20-12) — Rucker 9-14 0-0 21, Kroeger 1-7 0-0 3, Gunnels 0-3 3-6 3, Morgan 1-6 0-0 2, Hagen 3-6 2-2 8, Iverson 1-3 1-2 4, Simon-Ressler 1-2 0-0 2, Wolf 2-4 3-4 9, Hillyard 2-6 0-0 5, Gerrits 2-7 2-2 7. TOTALS 22-58 11-16 64.

MISSOURI ST. (22-9) — Gitzen 8-12 2-2 22, Hipp 2-3 2-4 6, Calip 1-5 6-6 8, Willard 5-14 0-0 11, Franklin 3-4 2-4 8, Ruffridge 5-8 0-0 14, Schultz 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 4-7 0-0 9, Bhinhar 1-3 0-0 2, Ellis 1-1 0-0 3, Manning 1-4 0-0 2, Gartner 2-4 0-0 4. TOTALS 33-66 12-17 89.

UNI 11 19 19 15 — 64

MISSOURI ST. 10 35 19 25 — 89

3-Point Goals–UNI 9-25 (Rucker 3-4, Wolf 2-4, Hillyard 1-2, Gerrits 1-2, Iverson 1-3, Kroeger 1-4, Gunnels 0-1, Simon-Ressler 0-1, Morgan 0-4), Missouri St. 11-18 (Gitzen 4-5, Ruffridge 4-6, Ellis 1-1, Wilson 1-2, Willard 1-3, Manning 0-1). Rebounds–UNI 25 (Hagen 6), Missouri St. 49 (Franklin 14). Assists–UNI 12 (Gunnels 4), Missouri St. 15 (Gitzen 4). Total Fouls–UNI 14, Missouri St. 18. Fouled Out–none. A–2,254.