Women’s hoops dominates down the stretch

Junior forward Michaela DeKilder goes up for a layup in the paint versus Lee Jan. 19. DeKilder has led the Lions in rebounds this season, including 20 against Union Jan. 9.

by Sports Editor Andrew Fulmer

At the halfway point in the season, the North Alabama women’s basketball team finds itself in a prime position for postseason play, one season removed from a five win 2015-16 campaign.

The Lions, 14-3, are proficient at nearly all facets of the game. They lead the Gulf South Conference in steals per game, averaging 10.69, and are the 3rd ranked scoring defense, allowing 59.8 points per game while sporting the 5th ranked scoring offense, averaging 72.6 PPG.

Lions head coach Missy Tiber said playing a favorable early season home schedule has provided the team with a spark to ignite the success the team is having thus far.

“We are concentrating on one game at a time and trying to be better every day,” she said. “But, when it comes down to it, when you’re looking at these conference games, you’ve got to find a way to win some on the road, and you need to win your home games. We are pretty good here at home, and we have to protect our home court.”

The Lions are undefeated at home and have 8-3 record in Gulf South Conference play after their latest victory — a come-from-behind win at Shorter, courtesy of a go-ahead bucket from freshman guard Emma Wallen.

The breakout star of the season is freshman guard Ivy Wallen, who sits atop the GSC in total points with 309 and second in average points per game with 19.3.

“It’s my job to take these shots,” Ivy Wallen said. “My team does a real good job of recognizing when I’m on. Jaclyn (Heath) does a great job of getting me the ball when I need it. It’s really a team effort. The team does their job, and I do my job.”

Ivy Wallen, along with her fellow freshman sisters Emma and Ella, have each contributed in this turnaround season. Emma Wallen has played in all games so far this season, accruing 362 minutes off the bench. Ella Wallen saw some rotation early in the season, but has missed time with a shoulder injury suffered in the Alabama-Huntsville game Dec. 4.

On a team that features no seniors, UNA finds their upperclassmen leadership in junior guards KeKe Gunter and Jaclyn Heath.

Gunter is second on the team and seventh in the conference in scoring with 15.4 PPG, while Heath has played a key role is distributing the ball with a team-leading 63 assists this year.

Junior forward Michaela DeKilder leads a resurgence of rebounds in the heart of conference play. She leads the team with 134 total rebounds, including a season high 20 rebounds in a 75-53 victory over Union Jan. 9.

“The week coming into the Union game, we focused on rebounding,” DeKilder said. “So my goal was to help the team with my part to get rebounds. I never knew I had so many. I just wanted to help my team get the win.”

Up next for UNA is a rematch at home versus Mississippi College Jan. 26. The Lions fell to the Choctaws in an upset Jan. 14 78-63. They then host Delta State Jan. 28.