Panthers show resiliency in picking up first Horizon League win

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It was a humbling start to Horizon League play when Green Bay visited the Klotsche Center on Thursday night, but Milwaukee still managed to finish the week strong. After dropping their conference opener to a very good Phoenix team, the Panthers took a weekend trip to Indiana and picked up a league win to quickly get back on track.

In a rivalry series which was being played for the 100th time, Green Bay continued their outstanding start to the season by running away from the Panthers in the second half Thursday night. The team which already has two AP Top 25 wins this year looked like a contender again in dispatching the Panthers, but Milwaukee may have learned a thing or two along the way. For example, they started fast and finished strong just three days later at The Jungle. Milwaukee led virtually the entire game against IUPUI, and while it may not have been a perfect win, head coach Kyle Rechlicz is hoping that her team can build upon the success while looking ahead.

“I told our team after the game, sometimes it’s not going to be pretty on the road,” Rechlicz surmised postgame. “But we have to find a way to be more consistent…The rest of our non-conference schedule has some top mid-major teams coming in, and we need to play consistent from start to finish to earn wins in those games.”

Against Green Bay, Rechlicz’s side battled a foe which rolls many players for significant minutes over the course of a game, and plays at a quick pace. The Phoenix cashed in consistently on the Milwaukee turnovers which their high-intensity defense forced, as Green Bay scored more than a third of its points off of Panther turnovers. For the game, Milwaukee coughed up 19 possessions, which the Phoenix translated into 26 points. Milwaukee struggled to shoot the ball efficiently against the waves of Phoenix defenders, and though they came into the game shooting well from the outside, managed to splash only five of their 20 (25%) triple tries against Green Bay.

Milwaukee got just two of its players into double figures in the scoring column against the Phoenix, as leading scorer Kendall Nead hit for 10 points and freshman Jorey Buwalda led the Panthers with 11 points at the end of their 76-53 loss. Though the Panthers finished by making 40.4% from the floor, they were in the 30’s shooting the ball for much of the game before a 7-0 scoring run in the closing minutes. The Phoenix held an insurmountable lead due to their 56.1% mark from the floor overall, and Green Bay made 10 of 14 (71.4%) of their own shot attempts in the fourth quarter to put the margin out of reach. The Panthers’ coach, though frustrated by defeat, saw the matchup as a moment which her side can learn from going forward.

“This is a good game for us to learn a different style of basketball…we took on a lot of teams in the non-conference that played transition-style, that were athletic and quick, but were not as physical,” Rechlicz analyzed on Thursday night. “We have to learn how to play through that physicality and know that we need to play more disciplined moving forward.”

After a tough contest against Green Bay, Grace Crowley and the Panthers picked up a Horizon League win at IUPUI (Milwaukee Athletic Communications)

The Panthers came out firing in Indianapolis on Sunday, quickly building an 11-2 lead in what would be a game of runs for both teams. After the Jaguars gained a 14-12 advantage with a flurry of their own, Milwaukee recaptured the lead 18-14 before Angie Cera converted an old-fashioned three-point play to give Milwaukee a 21-14 lead after the first quarter. The Panthers’ balanced group of scorers pressed their advantage to go up 29-16 by the midpoint of the second period, and Milwaukee held a 35-24 halftime lead.

The Panthers shot it particularly well from downtown to start the third quarter. After Kamy Peppler and Nead tossed in deep balls, Jada Donaldson – who shot just 18.2% from the land of trey last year – got in on the act with her seventh triple (she’s making 46.7% of her tries this year) of the young season to push the Panthers’ lead up to 47-28 before IUPUI got it going to end the stanza at a 54-41 margin in favor of Milwaukee after three. The Panthers were to learn that IUPUI wasn’t finished with their comeback bid, as the Jaguars made a push in the fourth quarter which saw the MKE lead trimmed down to a 60-54 advantage with 4:32 left in the contest. From that point on, the Panthers got clutch buckets from Nead and veteran forwards Angie Cera and Grace Crowley to help put their first Horizon League win of the season on ice. By holding the Jaguars to 59 points, the Panthers accomplished one of their coach’s stated desires this season to prevent as many opponents as possible from scoring 60 in a game. It was the third time this year that Milwaukee has done so, and the fifth time that the Panthers have allowed 62 points or fewer.

Nead led the way in scoring against IUPUI with 16 points to go with her 7 rebounds, while Cera tallied 11 and forward Ann Lutz helped out everywhere with 12 points, 6 boards, 3 assists, plus a block and steal each. Crowley was a perfect 2/2 from the floor and 4/4 at the charity stripe for her 8 points, and Peppler set her friends up with a team-high 6 assists to go with 8 points of her own. Though her role was something of an unknown to begin the season, Buwalda’s strong rookie year continued with 7 points and 7 boards against the Jaguars, and she has averaged 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds over the Panthers’ past five contests.

Having seen what’s likely the best team in their conference, the Panthers will look ahead to a few more non-league games before Horizon League play takes over the schedule. Milwaukee will host St. Thomas (MN) of the Summit League this Thursday before making a short trip to the Windy City for a clash with Loyola Chicago on Sunday. St. Thomas has lost four straight tilts, while the Atlantic 10’s Ramblers knocked off Northwestern in a rivalry contest last week. Fully healthy now for seemingly the first time since their season tipped off, Milwaukee will hope to keep their positive momentum rolling with another week of stacking good days.

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