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December 20, 2008

Eagles rely on defense, inside presence to top UIS, 62-55

at Southern Indiana (5-4): 62
Illinois-Springfield (1-9): 55
Box Score

EVANSVILLE, Ind.When Head Coach Rick Stein leads his University of Southern Indiana women's basketball team onto the court Monday against Truman State University, he will have the chance to tie the program's all-time mark for career victories thanks to a solid defensive effort and strong rebounding presence that allowed the Screaming Eagles to defeat the University of Illinois-Springfield, 62-55, Saturday evening at the Physical Activities Center.

USI (5-4) got big second-half stops and had a dominating presence on the glass as it overcame a sluggish shooting performance to earn the seven-point victory over the Prairie Stars and put an end to a two-game skid.

"When you are struggling to score baskets, you can always guard and you can always rebound," Stein said following the game. "We did those two things today and it gave us a chance to win the game."

The Eagles, who held the Prairie Stars to just 17 points in the first half, out-rebounded Illinois-Springfield 41-36 and held a 19-7 advantage in offensive rebounds.

"We've really been focusing on rebounding the basketball," Stein said. "We had 19 offensive rebounds today and we needed every single one."

After going into the break with a 24-17 halftime edge, the Eagles saw Illinois-Springfield cut their lead to 32-31 with less than 16 minutes to play in the contest.

Cootie Leeberg

Freshman guard Cootie Leeberg (Lombard, Illinois), however, converted three straight free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt to give the Eagles a little breathing room. Leeberg drained a three-pointer less than a minute later to give USI a 38-31 lead with 14 minutes to play.

"I thought Cootie stepped in and played great today," Stein said. "She sparked us on both ends of the court."

Taylor Miller

USI also got a couple key baskets out of freshman forward Taylor Miller (Anderson, Indiana) and sophomore guard Lauren Meneghetti (Munster, Indiana. Miller scored five points in a 30-second stretch that gave the Eagles an eight-point lead; while Meneghetti scored five points in a 40-second stretch that saw the Eagles grab a double-digit advantage.

Despite building its largest lead of the game (53-40) with less than eight minutes to play, USI could not put the Prairie Stars away for good.

Illinois-Springfield (1-9) shot 60 percent from the field in the second period and held the Eagles to just 26.5 percent shooting from the floor as it inched its way back into contention.

The Prairie Stars went on a 14-3 run to close the gap to a bucket with less than three minutes to play in the game. However, the Eagles stiffened on defense as they did not allow a field goal in the final two minutes, 50 seconds of the contest.

"One of the things we did down the stretch was get stops when we needed them." Stein said. "They came down and had a chance to tie the game or take the lead and we got the stop when we needed it."

USI clinched the victory from the charity stripe as sophomore guard Amie Newhart (Mulberry, Indiana) connected on four straight free throws to close out the win. "We have a lot of confidence with the ball in Amie's hands late in the game and she topped it off from the free throw line," Stein said.

Newhart and Meneghetti each finished the contest with 11 points, while junior guard/forward Abby Williams (St. Joseph, Illinois) added a team-best 12 points. Meneghetti chipped in a career-high eight rebounds, while senior forward/center Ninette Evans (Memphis, Tennessee) racked up a game and season-best 12 boards.

USI and Truman State will tip off at 1 p.m. Monday at the PAC. Admission to the game is free of charge fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to support Archie's Food Closet.

Dan McDonnell,
USI Sports Information

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