Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) poured in a career-high 29 points and Valparaiso shot 92.6% from the free throw line as the Crusaders recorded a 77-69 victory over Butler on Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center in the Brown and Gold’s inaugural Horizon League contest.
With the victory, Valpo extends the 10th longest homecourt in the nation to 11 straight wins. The Crusaders also snapped Butler’s eight-game winning streak overall, the 13th longest in the country.
Kulaga made eight of her first 11 shots from the floor and finished a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line, including 4-of-4 in the final minute, while adding six rebounds, six steals, and four assists.
“I’m proud of Aggie,” head coach Keith Freeman said afterwards. “She is playing like the vision I had for her while recruiting her out of Poland. It is neat to see how much better she has gotten.”
Valpo jumped in front early 8-2, only to see the Bulldogs tie the game at 11 eight minutes into the contest. The Crusaders slowly rebuilt the advantage, and used a 13-5 run to build a nine-point advantage with 4:33 to play in the half. After Butler cut the lead to five, Valpo scored the final five points of the stanza to take a 37-27 lead into the locker room.
“I thought we had a good first half and did enough good things in the second half not to let them completely back in the game,” Freeman said.
The Crusader advantage remained between seven and 12 through the first 10 minutes of the second half. Butler made a run, cutting the lead to two, 61-59, with 4:39 to play in the game. Kulaga then found Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) down low for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Valpo made 10-of-10 free throws in the final minute to secure their first Horizon League victory.
“The ability to shoot free throws has been a major key for us,” Freeman added. “We can put five players at the end of the game to close it out.”
Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) scored 14 points, including 12 in the second half, to tie her season high scoring out put. The redshirt-junior was a perfect 4-of-4 from both the field and the line, including a pair of triples.
Farris also tied her season high with 11 points while Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) added 10 more to score in double figures for the 11th time in 12 games.
Lade Akande lead Butler (10-2, 0-1 Horizon) with 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting while Tara Miller added 15 more points for the Bulldogs.
“We are a team still trying to get better every day and have lots of improvement left in us,” Freeman concluded with.
Valparaiso’s (6-6, 1-0) next chance to improve will come on Thursday evening as the Crusaders head to Chicago, Ill. looking for its first road victory of the season. The Crusaders will face UIC beginning at 7 p.m. with all the action carried live on the Horizon League Network as well as www.sportsjuice.com.