Offense was not senior forward Charnise Mitchell’s focus during her senior night, but she dominated defensively in the paint Saturday when the Salukis lost 72-50 at the SIU Arena.
Mitchell grabbed a season-high of nine rebounds against Illinois State University’s Redbirds (18-11, 13-5 MVC) in front of almost 500 Saluki fans. The Salukis (8-21, 4-14 Missouri Valley Conference) started the game strong,
jumping to a 9-2 advantage early.
Their defense in the second half couldn’t hold past the Redbirds’ offensive strategies for a final home victory of the 2011-12 season.
“It’s been a long two years, I’m not going to lie,” Mitchell said. “Didn’t actually accumulate the wins I expected coming in. I feel (the team) has a chance to grow, though. The MVC is losing a lot of people this year. Next year could flourish for them.”
Coach Missy Tiber said the reason why the Salukis’ last season home game wasn’t victorious was because the team let up defensively.
“Our defense was poor in the second half. We didn’t have the same intensity we did in the first half,” Tiber said after the game Saturday. “When you can’t score, it’s almost like football where you feel like your defense is on the field the entire time.”
The Salukis were led by the dynamic duo: freshman guard Cartaesha Macklin, who led SIU with 18 points and six rebounds, and junior guard Teri Oliver, who added 10 points and seven boards.
Mitchell said she expects the best for next year’s team.
Despite a tough outcome of the Salukis’ regular season finish, Mitchell said the Salukis are prepared to advance to what they’ve worked hard for— a shot at the national championship.
The 2012 season will be the team’s 21st appearance in the annual State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Salukis were pre-ranked to finish ninth in the conference, and that’s exactly the position in which they stand.
SIU will open the tournament Thursday and compete against No. 8 Bradley University, and if SIU wins, they will go on to play top seeded Missouri State Friday in the second round.
According to the Saluki Athletics website, SIU is 15-18 all-time in the MVC tournament and took home tournament titles in 1987 and 1990.
The Salukis have struggled in the past few years during the Valley tournament. SIU has played in the Thursday opening round for the past five seasons and posted its last tournament win in 2008 over the Braves.
Sophomore center CiCi Shannon said March Madness is a significant time for both men’s and women’s basketball teams across the country. She said now is the time for SIU’s women’s basketball team to use everything it has learned and bring it to the MVC Tournament.
“At this point, our main objective is to focus on what we’ve been working for all year,” Shannon said. “We have gotten better throughout the season, and we can’t stop here. (We)didn’t win every game this year, but we improved. We have to turn it up if we really want to win.”
Tiber said outstanding performances from Macklin, Oliver and freshman center Alexus Patterson, who has received four All-MVC accolades, will be key assets to the Salukis’ offense and defense in the Valley Tournament, along with players on the bench ready to play.
SIU women’s basketball will tipoff at 4 p.m. Thursday in the annual 2012 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament against Bradley University in St. Charles, Mo.