Valparaiso trailed by 14 with less than four minutes to play and cut the deficit to two, but could never get the lead as the Crusaders fell 61-57 to Western Illinois at Western Hall in Macomb, Ill. on Monday evening.
Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph's H.S.) hit a three-pointer and scored on a backdoor lay-in to cut the Valpo deficit to eight, 41-33, with 9:04 to play. The Westerwinds answered with six straight points to push the lead back to 14. The Crusaders scored on three straight possessions, but the defense could not hold and Western Illinois answered each time.
Valpo made a late run after trailing 51-37. A three-point play by Braun and a steal and score by Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow Poland/Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace I H.S.) cut it to six, 55-49, with 1:34 to play. After two Westerwind free throws, Carrie Myers (Stickleyville, Va./Lee H.S.) drained a triple to cut it to 57-52. Another free throw pushed the lead to eight, but Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) hit another three from the left corner to cut it to three with 36.2 seconds to play.
DeeDee Murphy hit one of two free throws with 30.2 seconds left. Tamra Braun (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) scored inside with 13.5 left to cut it to 59-57 but Murphy went and hit two free throws with 11.0 to play to seal the victory.
Western Illinois (13-2, 5-0 Mid-Con) scored their final ten points from the free throw line as they went 23-of-27 for the game from the stripe to improve their nation's longest homecourt winning streak to 46 straight games.
The match-up of the top two defensive teams in the Mid-Con appeared to be anything but in the first few minutes. Valpo made seven of its first 11 shots from the floor while the Westerwinds hit seven of their first 13. Western Illinois scored on its first two possessions of the game and led throughout the early going.
The Crusaders tied it at 15 at the 8:55 mark on a jump shot by Krystal Taylor (Minneapolis, Minn./North H.S.). Taylor, who entered with a season-high five points, scored six in the opening 11 minutes for the Brown and Gold.
Western Illinois scored six straight points to build a 21-15 lead heading inside of four minutes before the break as Zane Teilane, the Mid-Con's preseason Player of the Year, scored ten first half points. The lead remained between four and six points the rest of the half heading into the locker room as the Westerwinds took a 27-21 lead at the break.
Samantha Greer scored 11 for Western Illinois on 5-of-6 shooting as the two posts combined for 21 of Western Illinois' 27 first half points.
Braun led Valpo with eight points at intermission as the Crusaders committed seven turnovers, including a pair of shot clock violations, in the first 20 minutes.
The hosts lead grew to 12 seven minutes into the second half as Teilane hit back-to-back turnarounds from ten feet to make it 37-25 and the lead grew to 14 before Valpo's late comeback attempt.
Braun finished the game with 20 points and seven rebounds as the only Crusader in double figures. Taylor added a career-high eight points for the Brown and Gold as Valpo finished shooting 42.9% from the floor.
Teilane led Western Illinois with 18 points and 12 rebounds while Greer added 15 more on 6-of-9 shooting. Rachel Reed also scored 13, including 9-of-10 from the line.
Valparaiso (10-6, 4-1) will return to action on Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders return to the Athletics-Recreation Center to battle Southern Utah. Tip-off against the Thunderbirds is slated for 2:05 p.m.