The UNI Panther women’s basketball team earned their 20th victory of the season during the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Moline, and perhaps enough prestige to claim a bid to the Postseason WNIT.
Friday night, Taylor Hagen drove to the basket and hit a contested layup with 17 seconds left to give UNI a 64-63 lead, ultimately propelling the Panthers to a 66-63 victory over Southern Illinois in the Hoops in the Heartland quarterfinals.
The Panthers had led much of the final three quarters, but the Salukis rallied and were ahead thanks to Brittney Patrick’s three-pointer with 35 seconds left. Hagen’s drive – beginning from the three-point line – put UNI back on top for good.
After a missed shot by SIU, Heidi Hillyard grabbed the rebound and was fouled. She hit both free throws for the 66-63 Panther lead.
The Salukis had two looks at a late basket, but their final possession went without a score as time expired.
Karli Rucker led the Panthers with 18 points and seven rebounds. Hagen added 16, while Abby Gerrits delivered 17 off the bench. Led by Gerrits, the UNI bench outscored SIU’s reserves 24-5.
The win boosted the Panthers to the program’s sixth 20-win season and the fourth under Coach Tanya Warren.
UNI could not duplicate their quarterfinal result during Saturday evening’s semifinal. Missouri State outscored the Panther 35-19 in the second quarter, pulling away for an 89-64 win.
The Bears came out firing in the second, making 12 of 17 shots, including six consecutive attempts at one point, and UNI failed to keep up with MSU’s blistering pace. Missouri State’s 35-point quarter is the most productive against the Panthers since the NCAA implemented the 10-minute time blocks for the 2015/16 season.
UNI started the third quarter with an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to 47-41, but the tide broke at that point, with the Bears extending their lead back to 15 by the end of the period.
Rucker scored a team-high 21 points. She was the only Panther in double figures.
UNI will learn Monday whether the school is invited to the WNIT. If the Panthers make the field, it will be the program’s eighth postseason tournament bid in the last nine seasons.