Lady Bears Begin Final Road Swing Thursday at Evansville

Lady Bears Begin Final Road Swing Thursday at Evansville

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Missouri State Lady Bears (19-9, 10-6 MVC) 

vs. 

Evansville Purple Aces (8-19, 3-13 MVC) 

Date: Thursday, March 3, 2011Time: 7 p.m.
Site: Roberts Stadium (11,600)Location: Evansville, Ind.
Radio: KTXR 101.3 FM (Rob Evans)TV: None
Live Audio: RadioSpringfield.com Live Stats and Video: GoPurpleAces.com
             

Game Overview

The Missouri State Lady Bears will open the final weekend of regular-season play with a 7 p.m. road tilt Thursday against the Evansville Purple Aces at Roberts Stadium. MSU will be in search of its sixth straight victory over UE and its third in-a-row on the road in the Aces' penultimate game at Roberts.

The Lady Bears, who will close the Valley season Saturday afternoon at Southern Illinois, enter the final road swing of the season still looking to solidify their position in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. MSU (10-6 in MVC play) righted its ship with home wins over Drake (Feb. 25) and Creighton (Feb. 27) last weekend and enters Thursday's action in fourth place in the MVC race, just one game behind Illinois State (11-5) in third and a game-and-a-half out of second, where Creighton resides with a 12-5 mark.

Evansville enters the game with losses in four straight contests and in 10 of its last 11 outings overall. Although the Aces have struggled to a 3-13 conference mark, more than half of their losses (seven) have been by 10 points or less.

In their first contest of the season against Evansville (Jan. 2), Missouri State outscored the Purple Aces 42-16 in the paint and limited UE to just four points over a span of six-and-a-half minutes to allow the offense to take over with a 32-14 scoring run.

Quick Hits

► With two wins last weekend to close the home portion of the schedule, the Lady Bears secured their second consecutive winning season at JQH Arena with a 12-4 regular-season mark

► The Lady Bears are 24-12 at home in conference play under Nyla Milleson

► A victory Thursday would give MSU its second straight 20-win season and its 16th overall 

► With their win over Drake, the Lady Bears are now 5-0 in games following their second straight loss over the last two seasons; MSU has not dropped three straight games since March 2009

► Junior guard Casey Garrison (1,643 points) moved past Lynn Strubberg into sixth place on the Lady Bears' career scoring chart with her 13-point performance vs. Creighton on Sunday; she needs 126 more points to move into the top 5 (Jeanette Tendai with 1,769 points)

► Garrison missed three free throws in a single game for the first time this season Sunday; she has knocked down 124-of-137 (.905) free throws on the season to rank second in the Valley and fifth among all Division I players; she hit a school-record 37 straight attempts from Dec. 5 through Jan. 21 and has seven different streaks of at least nine straight makes from the foul line this season

► Garrison also climbed into the Missouri State career top 10 for assists Feb. 25; she ranks eighth with 360 helpers, just eight shy of Gail Beck in the No. 7 spot

► Garrison recorded her 200th steal Sunday vs. Creighton to become the first Lady Bear in the 42-year history of the program to total 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 200 steals

► Last Friday night's announced attendance of 6,049 represented the Lady Bears' largest crowd ever at JQH Arena, spanning 47 games in three seasons

► Missouri State leads the Valley in total rebounding (44.1 rpg), field goal percentage defense (.346), defensive rebounding (29.0 rpg), offensive rebounding (15.2 rpg) and blocked shots (5.9)

► MSU ranks fifth nationally in blocks per game and 12th in field goal percentage defense

► In conference play, MSU is the top scoring (70.2 ppg) club in the circuit and also paces the league in free throw percentage (.760), rebounding (42.4 rpg) and offensive rebounding (15.5 rpg)

► Three Lady Bears rank among the top 10 in offensive rebounding in MVC play; Christiana Shorter (3.7 rpg) leads the league, while Tia Mays (2.5) is fifth and Garrison (2.4) ranks sixth

► Missouri State has kept nine opponents under .300 shooting and has held a total of 13 teams to 32 percent or less from the field this season; prior to the start of this year, the Lady Bears had held just four of their previous 93 foes below the 30 percent mark during Milleson's tenure

► With one rejection Sunday vs. Creighton, Mays upped her MSU single-season record for blocks to 93; Mays broke Sharon Zeilmann's 24-year-old MSU single-season record of 75 rejections vs. Bradley (Feb. 4) and leads the MVC (3.3 bpg) and ranks fifth nationally in blocks per game

► Jasmine Malone (2.0 spg) is tied for fourth and Garrison is ninth in the Valley in steals (1.8) per game during conference play; Malone is also third in free throw percentage (.882) in MVC play

► Shorter leads the MVC in offensive rebounding (3.3 rpg), ranks second in total rebounding (8.3)fourth in field goal percentage (.488); she ranks among the Valley's top 10 in a total of five individual statistical categories and enters Thursday's game eighth in the conference in scoring (13.5 ppg) during MVC play

Scouting the Lady Bears

With 10 letterwinners and four starters back from last year's 22-11 team that finished tied for third in the Missouri Valley Conference to secure the program's first postseason bid in four years, the Lady Bears enter the 2010-11 season as the MVC's preseason favorite. Leading the way for Nyla Milleson's fourth MSU team will be returning All-MVC performers Casey Garrison and Jaleshia Roberson, who were named to the league's preseason all-conference team. The junior duo formed arguably the deadliest one-two punch in the MVC-particularly during conference play-in 2009-10. In MSU's 18 Valley games, they combined for 36.1 points per outing, with Garrison's 20.4 ppg, average pacing all scorers by more than three points per game. The reigning Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year, Garrison spearheaded MSU's potent offense last year, finishing as the MVC's top scorer and steals leader. She became the first Lady Bear since Kari Koch in 2004 to receive all-region recognition from the WBCA when she was named a Region 6 finalist for the organization's State Farm All-America Team.

Through the first 28 games of this season, Garrison is once again among the league leaders in a number of statistical categories, including free throw percentage (2nd), three-point field goal percentage (2nd), scoring (2nd), assist-turnover ratio (3rd), assists (4th), minutes played (7th) and offensive rebounds (9th) entering Thursday's game.

Garrison has received help in the back court from junior Jasmine Malone, who ranks third on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (5.6 rpg). Freshman Karly Buer, who is fifth on the team with a 4.8 ppg. average, has also been a key cog in the Lady Bear attack. Buer is third on the team in assists after registering three straight games of at least 10 points and four assists (Nov. 20-30).

Also returning is the Valley's 2010 Freshman of the Year, Christiana Shorter. A Tulsa, Okla., native, Shorter finished her rookie campaign on a high note, registering five double-doubles in MSU's final six contests. Shorter enters play Thursday second in the MVC in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and fourth in field goal percentage (.488), while her 12.4 ppg average is second on the squad and 12th in the conference. Sophomore Tia Mays (4.3 ppg/6.5 rpg) has also played a critical role for MSU, leading the Lady Bears' defensive resurgence with a school-record 93 blocks on the season.

Lady Bear Notables

► Missouri State's 29-point win at Drake in the two clubs' first meeting of the year represented the biggest final margin of victory in a game in which the Lady Bears trailed at halftime since MSU made the transition to Division I in 1982; MSU has scored 50 points in the second half in three straight games against the Bulldogs

► Casey Garrison was named MVC Player of the Week for the fourth time this year and the eighth time of her career Jan. 31 after averaging 30.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists over two games vs. Creighton and Drake

► Tia Mays earned her first MVC Newcomer of the Week honor Jan. 17, and Christiana Shorter picked up her first MVC Player of the Week award Jan. 24 after claiming newcomer of the week honors four times last year

► The Lady Bears' 83 points vs. Lamar represented their highest opening-day offensive output since beating LSU, 85-75 to open the 2000-01 campaign

► After going winless on the road in November for over 26 years, Missouri State has claimed victory in two of its last three true road games over the last two seasons, but is still just 13-21 in the first month of the season since 2002-03

► The Lady Bears' win over SIU (Dec. 31) gave them a school-record seven wins in the month of December; MSU's 7-1 mark in December represents its best in any month since going 8-1 in January of 2005; the Lady Bears have won 16 of their last 18 December games over the last three years

► The Lady Bears set or matched five JQH Arena records Dec. 9 vs. SIU Edwardsville, including fewest points allowed (39), fewest points in a half (17), fewest field goals allowed (13), lowest field goal percentage allowed (.210) and widest margin of victory (+29)

► SIU Edwardsville's 39 points marked the lowest point total for a Lady Bear opponent since Jan. 1, 2004, when MSU held SLU to 33 points; it took the Lady Bears less than two weeks to hold another opponent to the same total, limiting Morgan State to 39 points on Dec. 21

► The Lady Bear defense limited Morgan State (Dec. 21) to just 14-of-72 (.194) shooting, marking the second-lowest single-game field goal percentage on record for a Missouri State opponent; that performance followed a similar effort vs. SIU Edwardsville (.210) on Dec. 9 which matched MSU's Jan. 22, 2004 performance vs. Texas-Pan American for the third-lowest single-game percentage

► Missouri State became the 30th Division I program to reach the 700-win mark with its Dec. 3 win over Eastern Michigan

► Mays's nine blocked shots against Arkansas State (Dec. 5) broke the Missouri State single-game record established by Sharon Zeilmann on two separate occasions; her effort also matched the all-time MVC mark held by UNI's Cassie Hager

► MSU was one of 17 Division I women's basketball programs to post a turnaround of at least +10 games or more last season; the Lady Bears' 12-game improvement was tied for the seventh-best in the nation

► MSU was 14th nationally in team scoring, 17th in FT percentage, 22nd in 3-FG percentage, 29th in steals, 37th in FG percentage and 47th in assists per game last year

► Missouri State's 591 free throws made in 2009-10 was more than four Valley teams attempted on the season and represented the fifth-highest team total in MVC history

► Garrison ranked 13th nationally in scoring and was the only NCAA Division I player in the country to rank among the top 35 in individual points, assists and steals per game last year

► Jaleshia Roberson's 91 three-point field goals last season was the second-highest total all-time at MSU and tied for third all-time in the Valley in a single season; Roberson moved past Jenni Lingor (2005) and Kari Koch (2006) by going 5-of-9 vs. Wichita State (March 12), and fell just 14 triples shy of Melody Howard's MSU record, set in 1994

Scouting the Purple Aces

Picked last in the Missouri Valley Conference's preseason poll, Evansville has responded to the critics with eight wins to double last year's total of four victories. Third-year head coach Misty Murphy has gotten balanced production from a cast of seven returning letterwinners and several key newcomers. Leading the way has been junior transfer Briyana Blair, who paces the club in scoring (10.0 ppg), steals (2.3 spg) and assists (2.9 apg). Sophomore post Samantha Heck has also been a key component of the UE attack, coming into the week scoring at at 9.9 ppg. clip while pulling down a team-high 5.1 boards per contest. Junior forward Chelsea Falkenstein has started each of UE's first 27 contests, contributing 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting .416 from the floor. Senior Stephanie Bamberger and sophomore Meagan Collins have combined for 62 three-point field goals and just under 16 points per game through the first 27 games of the season. Finally, junior transfer Staci Gillum has given the Aces quality production in her debut season, coming into the week with the second-best assist (61) and steal (42) totals on the club.

As a team, Evansville's 9.7 steals per game lead the Valley and its 5.4 three-pointers made per contest rank fourth. The Aces have struggled on the glass, however, with their 27 opponents combining to outrebound UE by an average of nearly seven boards per game.

The Coaches

Nyla Milleson (Kansas State, '85) is in her fourth season as the head coach at Missouri State with a 62-59 mark as the Lady Bears' mentor and an overall record of 247-95 in 11 years as a collegiate head coach. Prior to taking the reins of the MSU program, the Goodland, Kan., native guided Drury University to a 185-36 record in seven seasons, highlighted by a national runner-up finish in 2003-04. In all, the Lady Panthers made five NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, advancing to the Sweet 16 in three of those years. Milleson was honored as Heartland Conference Coach of the Year three times, as Drury won six conference titles in all. Milleson is 2-5 against the Bulldogs, but the Lady Bears have won the last two meetings in the series.

Misty Murphy (Colorado State, '98) is 25-51 in her third year as head coach of Evansville and 135-129 overall in nine years as a collegiate head coach. She accepted the Evansville job in 2008 after helping guide Rice to a pair of postseason appearances and a 51-46 mark in three years as an assistant coach. In her first season at the helm of the UE program, Murphy guided the Purple Aces to just the second MVC tourney title and NCAA appearance in school history. Murphy spent four years as a Division II head coach at Colorado State-Pueblo, where she went 66-46 and won a pair of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles. The Grand Junction, Colo., native also headed the Sheridan College program from 1999-2001, leading her team to back-to-back Region IX North Sub-Region titles at the junior college level.

Series History

Missouri State brings a 27-9 series advantage over Evansville into Thursday's game. MSU has won 16 of the last 22 games overall in the series.The Lady Bears will be looking for their sixth straight win over the Purple Aces after posting a 75-54 win in Springfield on Jan. 2 in the two clubs' first meeting of the season. Keyed by a monster performance from Christiana Shorter (21 points/14 rebounds) and one of their best team shooting effort of the season, the Lady Bears buried the Aces with a 32-12 scoring run. Behind a 12-of-13 shooting performance from Casey Garrison, the Lady Bears blitzed UE, 86-57, last year in Evansville, marking their largest margin of victory on the road under Nyla Milleson.

Heating Up

After struggling to find an offensive rhythm for most of the month of February, the Lady Bears posted their two most-productive games of the month last weekend to sweep Drake and Creighton. On Friday, MSU shot just over 49 percent from the floor in scoring a season-high 92 points-its second 90+ point effort of the year against the Bulldogs. Then on Sunday, the Lady Bears topped the 70-point barrier in back-to-back games for the first time since early Jan. 11.

On an individual level, Jaleshia Roberson went 7-of-12 (.583) from three-point range over the two-game span following a miserable nine-game stretch in which the junior guard hit only 9-of-48 (.188) tries from beyond the arc.

Holding Aces

Junior guard Casey Garrison has made the most of her five previous outings vs. Evansville. MSU's Naismith Trophy candidate comes into Thursday's game with career averages of 21.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest in five victories over the Purple Aces. Garrison has torched the nets to the tune of 64.7 percent (44-of-68) shooting against UE, helping the Lady Bears shoot .481 as a team over their five-game win streak vs. the Aces. MSU has outscored UE by an average of 19.8 points during the same stretch. The Lady Bears have converted at least 30 field goal tries in four straight games vs. Evansville during the streak.

That's a Winner

With their over Indiana State Feb. 10, the Lady Bears locked up their second straight winning season under head coach Nyla Milleson and their 28th overall in 42 years as a varsity program. Missouri State has some work to do to match its longest stretch of consecutive winning seasons, however. The Lady Bears posted 17 straight finishes above the .500 mark from 1990 through 2006.

With a victory Thursday, the Lady Bears would notch their 16th 20-win season and their second in-a-row.

Recovery Act

The Lady Bears' 1-4 start in February could be traced in part to a struggling offense that produced an average of just 60.2 points per outing. MSU topped the 60-point mark just two times over the five-game stretch on the heels of its best offensive effort of the season to date at Drake (Jan. 29), in which it shot .559 from the field and scored 90 points.

The Lady Bears shot just .345 as a team in its first five February contests, including an abysmal .208 (15-of-72) from beyond the arc. MSU recovered against Drake (Feb. 25) to shoot .493 from the floor and go 9-of-18 from three-point range in posting its best offensive night of the season with a 92-point outburst.

Jekyll and Hyde

Through the first 16 games of the conference season, the Lady Bears have shown two distinct personalities that can be clearly illustrated with a quick look at the numbers. In their 10 Valley wins, they have scored an average of 76.0 points while holding the opposition to just 57.6 points for a scoring margin of +18.4 points. MSU has also shot .416 from the field, and returning all-conference performers Casey Garrison, Jaleshia Roberson and Christiana Shorter have combined to average 43.9 points while shooting 158-of-362 (.439) as a group. Conversely, the trio has scored 36.8 ppg and shot just .355 (72-of-203) in their six MVC losses, as the Lady Bears have scored at a 60.5 ppg clip while giving up 72.5 points per outing. Most glaring is MSU's three-point field goal percentage defense, which has allowed just .279 shooting in the eight victories, but .406 in the six losses.

High-Water Marks                

The Lady Bears enjoyed their best offensive performance of the 2010-11 season to date in their win at Drake on Jan. 29, recording season-high totals for points (90), assists (21) and field goals (33), as well as their top shooting percentage (.559) of the year, which also represented a Missouri State high under fourth-year head coach Nyla Milleson. MSU's 29-point margin of victory equaled the Lady Bears' best on the road under Milleson as well.

In the rematch Feb. 25 in Springfield, the Lady Bears were arguably even better, topping their scoring high with a 92-point effort, thanks in large part to their third straight 50-plus-point second half versus the Bulldogs. MSU also eclipsed its previous single-game high for field goals (34) agianst DU.

May Day

Through the first 28 games of her Missouri State career, sophomore transfer Tia Mays has already made an imprint in the Lady Bear record book. The 6-1 forward, who ranked fifth nationally in blocks per game coming into the week, rejected two Bradley shots Feb. 4 to surpass Sharon Zeilmann's 24-year-old MSU single-season school record. With four rejections against Indiana State (Feb. 10), Mays climbed to No. 3 on the MVC's single-season blocked shot list, passing Tammi Blackstone of Drake, who swatted 84 shots in 1998-99. She added four more blocks last weekend to bring her Missouri State-record total to 93 on the year.              

Mays has posted eight of the top 15 single-game block totals in school history, including a Missouri State-record nine rejections in MSU's 58-47 win over Arkansas State (Dec. 5). That effort broke Zeilmann's school record and matched the all-time Missouri Valley Conference mark for blocks in a single game, held by UNI's Cassie Hager. Zeilmann, who swatted away eight shots on two separate occasions during the 1986-87 season, held the Lady Bear single-game mark for nearly a quarter of a century.

The Des Moines native became the fastest Missouri State player to reach 50 career blocks and her current average of 3.3 bpg would rank third all-time on the Valley's single-season list. If she concludes the season atop the MVC's leader board, Mays would become just the third Lady Bear to lead the conference in blocks, joining Zeilmann (1985 and 1987) and Breton Wyett (2007) in that exclusive club.

Climbing the Charts

Junior guard Casey Garrison took her place on a pair of Missouri State career top 10 lists the week of Jan. 3-9. The Bolivar, Mo., product eclipsed Cindy Henderson's career scoring total with her 13-point effort at Bradley (Jan. 8) to move into the top 10 for career scoring, just two days after cracking the school's top 10 steals list.

Already No. 2 all-time at MSU in career scoring average (18.1 ppg), Garrison needs 126 points to move up to fifth on the scoring list after passing Lynn Strubberg with her 13-point effort Sunday vs. Creighton, but an astounding 1,750 points to catch all-time NCAA scoring leader Jackie Stiles in the top spot on the chart with 3,393 career points. Garrison has a much shorter distance to climb to reach the top of the steals list, needing just 140 more to equal Kari Koch's school-record career total of 340.

With six assists Feb. 25 against Drake, Garrison broke into the career top 10 for assists at Missouri State and enters Thursday's game eighth on the list with 360 helpers. With 76 more rebounds she would crack the top 10 in that category as well, making her just the second Lady Bear ever to post top 10 career totals in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Jenni Lingor is currently the only player in the history of the varsity program at MSU to accomplish the feat, ranking fourth in points, sixth in assists, seventh in rebounds and eighth in steals. With 36 points at Drake (Jan. 29), Garrison joined Lingor as the only Lady Bears to total 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.

Garrison also moved onto the Valley's all-time top 25 scoring list last week, passing seven players to enter Thursday's game at Evansville in the No. 19 position on the chart. With 1,643 points in 91 career games, Garrison's scoring average of 18.1 points per contest ranks eighth on the MVC's career list. The Bolivar, Mo., native also climbed one spot to No. 13 on the conference's career free throws made chart, despite missing three tosses in a game for the first time this season Sunday against Creighton.

Bench Marks

After being outscored in each of the first three games of the season, Missouri State's bench has outscored the last 25 Lady Bear opponents by a combined 151 points (450 to 299). Keyed by Jaleshia Roberson's 25 points, the MSU reserves enjoyed a strong all-around performance Feb. 25, outscoring the Drake bench by a 31-4 margin. That effort followed a series of dominating efforts for the MSU bench; in the Lady Bears' win over LA Tech (Nov. 27), the MSU reserves outscored the Lady Techster reserves, 23-7 while also outrebounding them 22-7. MSU's contest against ORU (Nov. 30) produced even greater returns, as MSU finished with a 32-5 advantage in bench scoring vs. the Golden Eagles. Finally, led by Regan Soldner's career-high 10 points, the MSU bench out-performed Indiana State's reserves by a 25-6 margin Feb. 10.

Missouri State All-Time

Missouri State is in its 42nd season of women's collegiate basketball and has an all-time record of 715-495 (.591). MSU began formal competition in 1969 and, with its 22-11 mark last year, secured its 27th winning season. The Lady Bears have made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, highlighted by Final Four trips in 1992 and 2001 to go along with a Sweet 16 appearance in 1993.

The Lady Bears are in their 29th NCAA Division I season and 19th MVC year. MSU was in AIAW competition on the state, regional and national levels through the 1981-82 season, moved to Division I and Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference play in 1982-83 and started MVC competition in 1992-93 when the Gateway merged with The Valley. The Lady Bears are 232-104 all-time in MVC play with a 137-32 home record against league foes.

Fandemonium

Since the 1990-91 season, Missouri State has ranked in the top 20 nationally in average attendance 19 times, including a string of 10 straight top-10 finishes from 1992 through the 2000-01 season. The Lady Bears led all of Division I women's basketball in attendance during the 1992-93 season by averaging 7,421 fans per contest.

The Lady Bears drew their two largest crowds of the 2010-11 season last weekend to wrap up the home portion of the schedule. On Friday, a JQH Arena-record crowd of 6,049 witnessed a 92-82 victory over Drake, topping the previous building high of 5,523, set on dedication day (Nov. 23, 2008) against Arkansas State. That figure marked the Lady Bears' first gate of 6,000 or more at home since Feb. 19, 2006. Sunday's contest with Creighton also drew a significant following, as 4,668 fans streamed through the turnstiles to be a part of the WBCA Pink Zone and Senior Day festivities.

Coming into the 2010-11 season, MSU was fourth among all Division I women's programs in average attendance over the last two decades,, trailing only Tennessee, Connecticut and Texas Tech. Additionally, the Lady Bears have finished in the top 50 nationally in per game attendance for 24 straight years. The Lady Bears once again rank among the top 30 Division I teams with an average attendance of 3,641 fans per game over 16 home dates to rank 28th in the country.


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