Thursday, March 14, 2019

Bradley ready for "Hoops in the Heartland"

The TaxSlayer Center sits silent after the play-in session of last year's "Hoops in the Heartland" tournament in Moline. PHOTO / ALEX STAAB
Moline, Ill. - Consecutive losses to wrap up the regular season may seem disappointing, and perhaps it is, but for the Bradley Braves (20-9), it's time to turn to another chapter of the season, the postseason chapter.

It was an incredible non-conference slate, with the Braves going (10-1) outside of the Missouri Valley Conference. That lone loss came at the Purdue Boilermakers on December 21st. Bradley, in fact, got down to as few as one of 23 teams in the country still undefeated.

A year ago, it was Gabi Haack tearing up the court as a young freshman, rising up statistical charts with just one year under her belt at the Hilltop. For 2018-19, enter Lasha Petree.

The freshman from Detroit, Michigan was having one of the higher-scoring seasons among freshmen in the entire country. So Bradley's third-year head coach Andrea Gorski thinks it's been "fun" to see seasons like Haack's and Petree's back-to-back.

"Hats off to them, they're two incredibly hard workers. Two huge competitors. I think that's one thing about both of them is that they are about team and the want to win. They put extra time in and they've been able to help this program do something we haven't done in a while."

Petree was just recently named the Freshman of the Year and 6th Player of the Year by the Missouri Valley. Haack joined junior Chelsea Brackmann on the first-team all-conference, but what should worry teams having to go up against the Braves, is this is just getting started. Coach Gorski is ready for the ride.

"I think they're just going to get better and better. I think the biggest challenge has been how to blend two premier players like that together, and I think we've made a lot of strides in that."

From the youth to the veterans, Bradley only has two seniors on the roster, Shunseere Kent and Vanessa Markert. Gorski says that, although both have had off and on seasons, both in terms of health and production, she's pleased with how the duo has been playing down the stretch.

"Shun has been in the starting lineup for most of the conference season after battling early injuries. V's been steady off the bench for us, dealing with some things injury-wise on her own. They really want to win."

With Kent and Markert, it's come down to a mentality, knowing this is their final season as a Bradley Brave. Coach Gorski says that it's been great to watch them both "dial in".

"Sometimes, you see your seniors dial in a little bit more, especially as tournament time comes around, and that's exactly what those two (Kent and Markert) have done. I think that's why you've seen them have some good games here. Our team feeds off that."

The Braves drew the fifth seed, and will take on their I-74 rivals, the Illinois State Redbirds (18-11). On paper, it seems like a big game. Rivalry, Illinois State looking to flip the script from the regular season sweep by Bradley. Yet Gorski believes it's just another game, and that's the mentality you have to have at this point of the season.

"You have the mindset of that first and foremost how to be more consistent. Most of the attention, especially this week in practice has been on our team. Our kids, no matter who we play, are fired up for that first round. Illinois State's a rival of ours, so I think it's about trying to control our emotions and making sure the younger kids, the nerves don't take over."

When the Braves and Redbirds met last, it was a 75-65 home win for Bradley, a game that was the Game of the Week in the conference. Lexy Koudelka had a team-high 20 points for Illinois State. Their head coach, Kristen Gillespie, does think it was a great performance by the freshman, and is also hopeful it's just the start for her, citing how she's been able to play behind star player Simone Goods.

"I wouldn't mind if Lexy went and got 20 for us on Friday. She's going to be the future of our program in the post. I think she's benefited from playing behind 'Mone. If we didn't have Simone, Lex plays 25, 30 minutes. She's going to be very good."

Gillespie did go on to say how she's "sure she's now on Bradley's scouting report", and one would imagine so after a performance like Koudelka's.

The second-year coach for the Redbirds thinks it's great to have an option like Koudelka behind as talented of a player as Goods.

"It's just great to have another option, whether we choose to play her and Simone together, or when Simone needs a rest. To know she has a tremendous amount of confidence against Bradley is great."

Now the Braves and Redbirds were in similar spots when Gorski and Gillespie took over their respective programs, and each side has seen noted improvement since the duo started.

Coach Gillespie is excited to see what happens when the rivals meet for the first time in the postseason during her and Coach Gorski's tenures.

"I think our programs were both in very similar spots. What you'll see Friday is two teams that will play extremely hard. They'll play very together, two unselfish teams. It'll be a great matchup."

Bradley - Illinois State tips off at 2:30 pm from the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Illinois. The winner will play the winner of Drake - Valparaiso on Saturday at 1:30 pm.

MVC Quarterfinal Game Information:
Bradley Braves (20-9) vs. Illinois State Redbirds (18-11)
Friday, March 15th, 2019 - 2:30 pm CST tip-off
Radio | WIRL 1290 AM with Ed Hammond (Play-by-Play)
Web | ESPN+ ($) with Brad Wells (Play-by-Play) & Kelly Burke (Color)

Friday Schedule:
12:00 pm | (1) Drake vs. (9) Valparaiso
2:30 pm | (4) Illinois State vs. (5) Bradley
6:00 pm | (2) Missouri State vs. (7) Loyola
8:30 pm | (3) Northern Iowa vs. (6) Southern Illinois

Saturday Schedule:
1:30 pm | Drake/Valpo winner vs. ISU/Bradley winner
4:00 pm | Missouri State/Loyola winner vs. UNI/SIU winner

Championship Sunday:
2:00 pm tip-off

Bradley Statistical Leaders:
Field Goals Made | Chelsea Brackmann (142-281 / 50.5%)
Threes Made | Gabi Haack (69-191 / 36.1%)
Free Throws Made | Gabi Haack (119-135 / 88.1%)
Rebounds | Chelsea Brackmann (317 / 10.9 rpg)
Assists | Gabi Haack (67 / 2.3 apg)
Steals | Chelsea Brackmann (47 / 1.6 spg)
Blocks | Lasha Petree (30 / 1.0 bpg)
Points | Gabi Haack (440 / 15.2 ppg)

Bradley (79) @ Illinois State (68) - January 26th, 2019 - Box Score
Bradley (75) vs. Illinois State (65) - February 22nd, 2019 - Box Score
Hoops in the Heartland Tournament Central
Illinois State Season Statistics 

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