The women’s basketball team ended their season on a high note as they competed in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, making it all the way to the third round before losing a heartbreaker in overtime to Western Kentucky, 78-76.
SLU faced their first opponent, Little Rock, on March 17 at Chaifetz. They won 70-69, cutting it close after having a 70-63 lead with 2:45 left to play in the fourth quarter.
Play started out tight in the first quarter, with both teams exchanging no more than a two-point lead for a majority of the quarter. SLU trailed going into the second quarter, 14-10.
The second quarter proved to be just as trying for the Billikens. Little Rock’s upper hand did not faze SLU, though, and the women continued to stay hot on their heels. Little Rock’s biggest lead came at the halfway mark in the quarter, 27-20, but SLU got back in it with a three-pointer from freshman guard Jordyn Frantz.
Little Rock took another big lead later in the quarter, but SLU ended the half only three points behind, trailing 33-30. Their bench was crucial in the second quarter, bringing in 13 of their 20 points for the period.
The women came out hot in the third quarter, taking their first lead since the first quarter. Layups from sophomore guard Aaliyah Covington and junior center Sadie Stipanovich pulled the Billikens ahead, 34-33. But the lead was brief when Little Rock went on a 7-1 run to edge to the front, 42-35, at the seven-minute mark.
Sophomore guard Jackie Kemph used her offensive prowess to bring the Billikens back to their feet. She scored seven of the Bills’ 14 points in the remainder of the third quarter, giving her team a lead going into the final quarter of play, 49-48.
Kemph inspired the rest of her team to close out the game in the fourth quarter, helping SLU score 21 total points in the 10 minutes of play. SLU secured a 70-63 lead in the last few minutes of the game and stayed calm on their home court to close out the game, 70-69, and secure a place in the second round.
The women were able to stay at home for their second round game on March 21, coming behind in the fourth corner again to defeat Ball State, 59-55.
The Billikens trailed early, allowing Ball State to get on the board first, withholding the lead until the 3:39 minute mark. The first quarter ended in a tie, 9-9.
SLU could not get on the board until four minutes into the second quarter, conceding a 15-9 deficit to Ball State. A lone free throw from sophomore guard Jenny Vliet and a layup from Covington provided a bit of a spark, but the Billikens appeared out of sync. However, just when they appeared to be defeated for the half, they turned things around and went on an 11-5 run to pull out the lead going into halftime, 23-22.
Points were exchanged early in the third quarter, and the women were suddenly facing a five-point deficit. Sophomore forward Maddison Gits finally put one in, followed by one from senior guard Jamesia Price and a layup from Kemph, but Ball State continued to press, taking a 35-31 lead. SLU would then claw back to close the quarter ahead, 37-36.
A three pointer from Ball State took the wind out of SLU’s sails, followed by a pair of free throws. Both teams exchanged baskets until they were at 50-50, with three minutes left to play. Kemph and Stipanovich each scored on back-to-back possessions to seal the lead for SLU. Free throws carried the Bills through the rest to prevail, 59-55.
Unfortunately, the women could not string three together as they fell to Western Kentucky in the third round on March 25.
The Billikens had an astonishing start to the game, with a 10-0 deficit within the first three minutes. Despite the early shortcomings, an impressive 18-8 run put the Bills back in the game.
This swing in momentum was crucial for the Billikens’ second quarter. Stipanovich kept the offense going with two layups. SLU dominated and had the advantage at intermission, 38-30.
Vliet sank a three-pointer 13 seconds into the third quarter, giving SLU the push needed to put together a full 10 minutes. Western Kentucky inched their way back into the game, coming within five. Western Kentucky sprung a 6-0 run on them until the two-minute mark, and SLU held a slim two-point lead. Kemph and Vliet each had baskets to save them at the end, and SLU held strong with a 52-49 lead.
Western Kentucky made it clear they were not going to go down without a fight in the final ten minutes. The first four minutes of play resulted in a 59-57 Billiken lead. Gits and Kemph made some vital free throws to keep the lead for their team, 62-59, with four minutes left in the game.
The tide turned, as Western Kentucky went on a 6-0 run to take the final lead of the game. SLU appeared to be their normal selves, though, and went on a spurt at the end of the quarter to regain the lead, but they could only muster a tie at the end of regulation, forcing overtime at 69 apiece.
Western Kentucky broke the tie first, drawing ahead, 71-69. Kemph drew a foul at the halfway mark, making a free throw. Kemph found the basket a minute later to give SLU their first lead of the overtime period, 72-71.
Western Kentucky answered and took the lead, 75-74. SLU took a timeout with 15 seconds left to play. Junior forward Olivia Jacubicek successfully put in a shot with one second left, and it appeared the Billikens had pulled off another amazing comeback.
Western Kentucky used a time out to scrounge up a last-minute play. The improbable happened, and they put in a three-pointer off the inbound pass to steal the lead from SLU as well as a ticket to the quarterfinals, finishing 78-76.
What may appear as a sad end to the season yields a large amount of positivity and anticipation for next year’s season. SLU concluded the season at 26-8, the best in program history. They won the conference in a three-way tie with a 13-3 record. They had a home record of 14-1. With an A-10 player of the year and coach of the year returning next season, the Billikens have everything to look forward to and will continue to push the envelope to progress this program past its limits.