Feb 24, 2013
By Bil Ford
CARBONDALE, IL - There were plenty of statistics in the postgame box score that illustrated why Wichita State handed the Saluki women's basketball team such a lopsided loss Saturday night.
The most telling statistic, however, wasn't in the box score. It was on the roster page of the game program. The Shockers held a 6-0 advantage in seniors.
Saturday's game was senior night at WSU, and the Shocker seniors went out with a bang, accounting for 52 of their team's 80 points. The game was a stark contrast of a veteran Wichita team that is on the cusp of its first-ever Missouri Valley Conference title and a green SIU squad that is struggling to learn how to win.
Success didn't come overnight for the Shockers. Former SIU assistant Jody Adams inherited a last-place team five years ago, and WSU tied for ninth in the Valley during her first year in 2008-09. Adams and company signed the top recruiting class in school history that year, and the Shockers have steadily climbed the Valley standings each year since. Four of Adams's 2009 signees celebrated their senior night Saturday.
It's hard not to look at WSU's road to the top of the MVC without thinking the same could be possible for SIU. Wichita started with solid recruiting, which is something Southern has had the last two seasons. The next step, which has been a hurdle for SIU for the last decade, is retention.
The cupboard will not be bare for whomever takes over the program next season. SIU had two MVC All-Freshman Team honorees last season, and will likely have one or two more this season. The Salukis have flashed glimpses throughout the season that they can compete with some of the top teams in the league. Southern fell to third-place Illinois State by just three points and the Salukis led fourth-place Indiana State at halftime at home.
The biggest reason SIU has failed to get over the hump in close games, and also why Southern has let a few games get way out of hand, goes back to a lack of veteran leadership. With no seniors and just one junior who plays significant minutes, SIU relies almost exclusively on underclassmen.
The formula is simple: The reason veteran teams win is because of experience. Veteran players aren't as likely to panic in close games and don't easily throw in the towel under adverse conditions. Southern is taking some lumps this year, but the Salukis are gaining the kind of experience that will serve them well down the road.