December 29, 2000
SALUKIS TO BEGIN LEAGUE SLATE . . . All 10 league schools get underway this Saturday (Dec. 30), as Missouri Valley Conference play begins. Southern Illinois, who is coming off an 11-day break from the holidays will travel to Evansville, Ind., to face the University of Evansville in its 2000-01 league debut Saturday at 2 p.m. The Salukis enter this weekend's matchup at 3-6 on the year after their win over Tennessee Martin (74-67) snapped a three-game losing skid.
THE SERIES . . . The Salukis hold a commanding 13-7 series lead over the Purple Aces since 1985. However, SIU has dropped its last five games to Evansville and has handed over four of its seven losses to the Aces while playing at home.
LEAGUE OPENERS HAVE BEEN GOOD TO SIU . . . Over the last 20 years, Southern Illinois has compiled an overall record of 12-8 in Missouri Valley Conference openers and has won its last five of seven games to kick off league play. Of those 20 games, the Salukis have opened the MVC schedule just one time against Evansville and that was back in 1993-94 when the Dawgs defeated the Purple Aces 86-68.
GOOD RECOVERY . . . After losing its previous six of seven games, SIU bounced back to defeat Tennessee Martin by a score of 74-67 Tuesday, Dec. 19, to gain some momentum heading into conference play. The win, which snapped a three-game losing streak for the Salukis, was highlighted by sophomore Danielle Lawary who came off the bench to score both a season and career-high 23 points in just 23 minutes of play. Lawary hit four-of-five shots from the field while making all four of her free throw attempts to propel the Dawgs to a 34-34 tie at the half after SIU had trailed 21-12. For the game, Lawary was 7-of-10 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. In addition, she pulled down five rebounds. Also pacing SIU was Terica Hathaway who netted 14 points, Molly McDowell who added 13 and Geshla Woodard who chipped in 10.
BATTLE OF THE FIRST-YEAR COACHES . . . Southern Illinois University head coach Lori Opp (Western Illinois '88) is in her first season at the helm of the Saluki women's basketball program. Opp (Havana Ill.), who was named head coach in August, spent the last two seasons as the Salukis' assistant coach/recruiting coordinator. Prior to SIU, Opp served as a graduate assistant coach at Western Illinois (1988-90) and an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois (1990-93), Indiana State (1994-95), and Murray State (1995-98). With over 11 years of Division I coaching experience, Opp brings an unlimited amount of knowledge and enthusiasm to this year's squad as she is now the sixth head coach in the program's 41-year history.
Tricia Cullop (Purdue '93) took over at the helm of the Purple Aces on April 22 (two days before her 29th birthday) and thus became both the youngest head coach in the Missouri Valley Conference and one of the youngest in the NCAA. Prior to being named head coach at the University of Evansville, Cullop spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Last season, she helped the Musketeers to their best record in school history (26-5) and the school's first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship. She also helped lead Xavier to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1999 and 2000 and a WNIT berth in 1998. Before moving to Cincinnati, Cullop also served as an assistant coach at Long Beach State and Radford University in Radford, Virginia. A native of Bicknell, Ind., Cullop was a 1989 All-American at North Knox High School.
ABOUT THE SALUKIS . . . The Salukis are coming off a 74-67 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Dec. 19. The win, which snapped a three-game losing streak, marked SIU's second win in its last six games. Having not played since, senior point guard Terica Hathaway leads the Dawgs into this weekend's conference bout with the Aces averaging 12.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Also pacing SIU is sophomore Molly McDowell who is the team's second leading scorer with an average of 12.8 points per game and Danielle Lawary who is coming off a 23-point performance in 23 minutes of action against the Skyhawks.
SCOUTING THE ACES . . . The Purple Aces are looking to remain perfect in their current three-game homestand as UE hosts the Salukis. Evansville will also be going for their ninth consecutive regular-season MVC victory as UE finished the 1999-2000 regular season with eight straight wins over conference opponents. Paving the way for the Aces this season is junior forward Lisa Eckart who is averaging 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore center Jenna Hayes reigns as Evansville's second leading scorer with 9.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Additionally, the Aces have been without senior center Shyla McKibbon who has missed all but one game this season due to injury.
SALUKIS TABBED EIGHTH IN THE VALLEY'S PRESEASON POLL . . . Southern Illinois was voted eighth in this year's Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll which is exactly where the Salukis finished last season after its 5-13 performance in league play. SIU received 102 votes to just beat Illinois State (101) for the eighth spot. Southwest Missouri State was picked the league favorite for the second time in the past three years and fourth in the last six to win the conference. Drake, who won the MVC title outright a year ago, was then picked second while Evansville was chosen third rounding out the top three in this year's poll.
ON THE REBOUND . . . Southern Illinois holds a 372-343 advantage over its opponents in rebounding this season. Averaging 41.3 rebounds per game, the Salukis have been most effective on the boards in the second half, where the Dawgs have gathered 189 of their 372 rebounds. The solid rebounding of the Salukis has garnered them the top spot in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding offense on four occasions this season.
TALE OF TWO HALVES . . . Southern Illinois has been an entirely different team in the second half this season as opposed to the first. In eight games, the Salukis have been outscored by their opponents 314-269 in the first half, but have made a dramatic turnaround in the second stanza to outscore their opponents by a count of 335-328.
SHOOTING IMPROVING . . . Having made only 24-of-84 shots in the first halves of its previous three contests (all losses), SIU managed to hit 52 percent (13-of-25) from the field and 88 percent (7-of-8) from the free throw line in the opening stanza against Tennessee Martin. The turnaround, which marked a big improvement for SIU this season, is something the Dawgs are hoping to carry into this weekend's matchup with the Aces.
LUCKY SEVEN . . . Senior Terica Hathaway's 14 points against Tennessee-Martin brought her to within just seven points of reaching the 1,000-point plateau in her career. Hathaway, who has posted double figures in all but one game this season, currently stands with 116 points on the year. Her 116 points this season added to a three-year mark of 877 as she now stands with 993 in her career. Hathaway has scored 10 or more points in eight of SIU's nine games this season leading the Dawgs in scoring with an average of 12.9 points per contest.
LAWARY NAMED PLAYER-OF-THE-WEEK . . . Sophomore forward Danielle Lawary was voted Missouri Valley Conference Player-of-the-Week December 27 after her 23-point showing in the Salukis' win over Tennessee Martin. Lawary scored a point a minute as SIU rallied from nine points down to beat the Skyhawks. She reached a career-high 23 points in just 23 minutes, 12 of which came in a stretch which saw SIU rally to a 34-34 halftime tie. For the game, Lawary was 7-of-10 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line while adding five rebounds and one assist. In addition, Lawary was the first SIU player to be named the league's Player-of-the-Week since Nov. 22, 1999, when Melaniece Bardley garnered the honor.
WOODARD WAKES UP . . . After averaging a quiet six points in each of her last six games, junior forward Geshla Woodard tied a season-high 10 points against Tennessee-Martin. Woodard, who hadn't scored double figures since Nov. 25 against Louisiana-Lafayette, connected on 5-of-12 from the field while pulling down eight boards.
TURNOVERS COSTLY . . . SIU is averaging 20.8 turnovers per game this season turning the ball over 187 times to its opponents 161. The Salukis, however, have been hurting themselves more in the first half where they turned the ball over on 49 occasions in their last four games. Although looking to prevent that from happening this weekend against Evansville, SIU will have its hands full as the Purple Aces have forced an average of 25.75 turnovers per game this season and at least 22 turnovers in every game except one (19 by Wisconsin-Green Bay). Evansville ranks second in the league in turnover margin at +4.62 while topping the MVC in turnovers forced (25.75).
AIMING TO BE THE SPOILER . . . Although dropping its last five games to Evansville, Southern Illinois will look to keep the Purple Aces from getting their ninth straight win over a league opponent. Evansville finished the 1999-2000 season with eight consecutive wins over conference foes and if the Aces win Saturday, that win would give them a nine-game winning streak which would match the longest conference winning streak since Evansville joined the Valley in 1994-95.
POST PLAY STRUGGLING . . . SIU's two starters underneath in forward Geshla Woodard and center Kristine Abramowski have been struggling in the post this season. In the Salukis' nine games, the two are averaging a mere 12 points combined per contest. Abramowski, who has seen her playing time decrease as of late, saw action in just seven minutes against Tennessee-Martin before being replaced by teammate Danielle Lawary. Lawary, however, has been the key to the Dawgs' inside game thus far averaging 6.1 points per game off the bench in just 10.8 minutes of play.