Salukis open Valley season at home against Bradley on Thursday

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    Jan. 1, 2014

    Southern Illinois (2-9) vs. Bradley (3-8)
     Date Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014
     Time 2:05 p.m. CT
     Location Carbondale, Ill. - SIU Arena (8,339)
     Video Saluki All-Access

    Saluki Sports Network

     Notes Southern Illinois Get Acrobat Reader | Bradley Get Acrobat Reader
     Season Stats Southern Illinois | Bradley | MVC
     Live Stats Gametracker | Valley Scoreboard
     Social Media @SIU_WBasketball

    By Tyler Wooten

    CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Saluki women's basketball will open its Missouri Valley Conference schedule at home against the Bradley Braves on Thursday afternoon, with tipoff scheduled for 2:05 p.m. at the SIU Arena, which will be followed by the Saluki men's basketball matchup with No. 7 Wichita State at 7:05 p.m.

    Head Coach:
    Cindy Stein • First Season • 284-215 overall (17th season) • 2-9 at SIU

    Head Coach:
    Michael Brooks • Second Season • 22-49 overall (third season) • 17-24 at BU

    Bryce Williams (second season)
    Color Commentary: Logan Lee (first season)
    Station: WHET 97.7 FM (audio also available on Saluki All-Access)

    Southern currently leads the all-time series against the Braves 41-23, which is also the conference record between the two teams dating back to their time in the Gateway Conference starting in 1983. In Carbondale, the Salukis are 23-11 against Bradley, but Southern has not defeated BU since the MVC Tournament in 2008 (Mar. 13, 65-54) and have not defeated the Braves at home since 2007 (Feb. 9, 55-50).

    Overall, SIU is 278-294 all-time versus the Missouri Valley Conference (formerly the Gateway Conference from 1983-92), which includes a 16-20 mark in the conference tournament. The Salukis are 262-274 (.489) all-time in regular season conference play dating back to its first season in the Gateway in 1983, and are 124-232 since the change to the MVC in 1992. The Valley has retained eight schools from the Gateway days (SIU, Bradley, Drake, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Wichita State); Evansville joined the Valley in 1994, and Loyola most recently joined in 2013 to replace Creighton. Among active members of the Valley, SIU has an overall record of 269-294 and a conference mark of 234-251 dating back to 1983. In conference play (including the MVC Tournament), SIU has a winning record over three active teams: Bradley (41-23), Illinois State (34-32) and Wichita State (33-28); an even record with three teams: Indiana State (31-31), Loyola (0-0) and Northern Iowa (30-30); and a losing record against the remaining three schools: Drake (24-41), Evansville (18-23) and Missouri State (23-43). Among the three inactive Gateway/MVC schools (Creighton, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois), SIU was 46-36 -- which included a perfect 18-0 Gateway mark against WIU and a 15-4 Gateway record versus EIU.

    The Braves, under first-year head coach Michael Brooks, went 14-16 and finished sixth in the Valley with an 8-10 conference mark. Bradley secured two wins over SIU last season, 90-48 in Peoria and 77-61 in Carbondale. The Braves return two starters and eight letterwinners from last season.

    Bradley currently stands at 3-8 after concluding its non-conference season against DePaul on Dec. 29 (L, 67-91). The Braves have a potent offense that leads the Valley with 72.4 points per game, helped by a starting roster that currently boasts four players averaging over 10.0 points per game individually -- including the Valley's third-best scorer, Michelle Young (16.9 PPG). However, stopping opposing offenses has been a problem for the Braves this season, as they currently have the MVC's worst mark in scoring defense at 88.2 points allowed per game.

    A 52.1 percent clip from the field and a 10-of-28 mark from beyond the arc allowed the preseason Big East favorite DePaul Blue Devils to breeze past Bradley, 91-67, on Dec. 29 at the Renaissance Coliseum in Peoria. The Braves got a solid performance out of Kelsey Budd (17 points, eight assists), but the BU defense could do little to slow down the Blue Demon offense and forward Jasmine Penny (29 points, 13-of-14 shooting).

    EAGLES EDGE SIU, 59-50
    Yet another career-high scoring total for sophomore center Dyana Pierre wasn't quite enough for the Salukis to hang with Morehead State, as they fell to the Eagles, 59-50, in a tight game at the SIU Arena on Monday night. The Salukis (2-9) held the lead six times and were never down more than six points until the final minute of the game when MSU was able to pull away. Pierre was able to keep Southern in the game with her 21-point performance -- her second game in four tries where she has broken her previous career-high -- but SIU couldn't get a consistent effort out of its other starters and its bench, the latter of which was outscored 26-6 by the Eagles.

    Southern received two career performances in the past week in the form of two 21-point outings by sophomores Azia Washington (vs. UT Martin) and Dyana Pierre (vs. Morehead State). Washington bested her previous career-high of 17 on 8-of-12 shooting in SIU's loss to the Skyhawks. Pierre set a career high for the second time in four games, as her previous career best was 20 points, set on Dec. 16 vs. Eastern Illinois. Combined, Pierre and Washington scored 57 points and grabbed 35 rebounds in two games this past week for Southern.

    Sophomore forward Azia Washington was already having a career season heading into Southern's matchup against UT Martin on Dec. 23, when the Lee's Summit, Mo., native scored a career-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting in SIU's 85-55 loss to the Skyhawks. Washington has scored in double digits in four of her last six games, and has shot 50 percent or better in seven of SIU's 11 games this season. On the season, Washington ranks second on the team in field goal percentage (.441), second in rebounding (7.2) and third in scoring (9.0 points per game). In the conference, Washington ranks fourth in defensive rebounds (5.5), tied for seventh in rebounding and tenth in field goal percentage.

    Sophomore Dyana Pierre has been the catalyst for Southern all season long, and she has showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Pierre has scored a combined 65 points on 24-of-48 (.500) shooting in her last four games, which included a career-high 21-point performance against Morehead State on Dec. 30. In 11 games this season, Pierre has scored fewer than 10 points only twice and has posted double-digit rebound performances in six games -- five of which have contributed to double-doubles. Pierre has earned her right as SIU's leading scorer and shooter as she's made at least six field goals in eight of Southern's 11 games and attempted at least nine shots in 10 games. In the conference, Pierre currently ranks first in offensive rebounds (3.5 per game), second in blocks (1.7), second in rebounding (9.0), fourth in field goal percentage (.509), fifth in defensive rebounds (5.5) and ninth in scoring (13.9).

    Sophomore center Dyana Pierre is already within striking distance of the top-ten all-time at SIU in career blocks less than two years into her young Saluki career. After posting the fourth-most blocks in a single-season in school history in 2012-13 (36), Pierre stands within one block of the top-ten with 55 career blocks. Pierre currently has 19 in 2013-14 and averages 1.7 per game, right now the second-best mark in the MVC. At this pace, Pierre will record the third-most blocks in a single-season for SIU in 2013-14 and climb up to second all-time in career blocks.

    Junior Mercedes Griffin has found herself part of a depleted Saluki upperclassman regiment, and has taken her role in stride. Griffin, a native of Bolingbrook, Ill., has started six of SIU's 11 games so far, including a start against UT Martin on Dec. 23 when she scored a career-high 11 points with a career-high 9-of-10 mark from the charity stripe. In fact, Griffin's clip from the free throw line over the last three games is an impressive 73.9 percent (17-of-23). Griffin has been a fixture on the line recently, but entering Southern's contest with Chicago State on Dec. 20, she was only 6-of-18 in free throw attempts the entire season. The 2013-14 season is turning out to be a career-year for Griffin. She already has more free throws made and attempted this season than in any other at SIU, and she is only five points away from topping her career season-high total of 61 points.

    With a healthy percentage of SIU's starting roster from last season unavailable due to injury, the Salukis have had to dig deeper into its roster than previously anticipated. Starting point guard and walk-on Hannah Shores has eased into Division I basketball with 4.8 points and 2.2 assists in 24.2 minutes per game. Senior Sidney Goins -- who played 27 combined minutes in her first four games this season -- has played at least 17 a game since and has posted 27 points on seven three-point field goals in her five starts. Goins posted double-digit scoring figures in consecutive games for the first time in her Saluki career against EIU (12) and Chicago State (10). Most recently, senior Jordyn Courier came off the bench with seven points, three steals and two assists in 18 minutes in SIU's loss to Chicago State on Dec. 20 and she chipped in seven points as a starter versus UT Martin on Dec. 23. Prior to Dec. 20, Courier had played more than nine minutes only once in 2013-14 (IPFW, 13).