By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
MOLINE, Ill. — Western Illinois’ women’s basketball team had problems getting away from St. Xavier in Friday’s 84-69 win at Vibrant Arena.
That was something coach JD Gravina expected when he was watching video of the Cougars.
It was the last game of nonconference play for the Leathernecks (5-6), and they got up early on St. Xavier, an NAIA school from Chicago. But the Cougars provided a serious challenge for Western Illinois heading into Monday’s Summit League opener at North Dakota State.
“We knew they could score it,” Gravina said. “It wasn’t going to be a boring game, but they scored it a little better than I would have liked.”
The Leathernecks’ biggest lead was 18 points in the second quarter, and they only outscored St. Xavier 39-36 in the second half.
“When we watched them on film, what the staff and I said was, ‘Man, they were just a little bit better than what we would have liked,’” Gravina said, smiling. “We felt like they were good enough to do just that, hang around. … It doesn’t surprise me that we didn’t go out there and win by 30. And also, we’re not that type of team. We’re not that physically dominating at all, and in fact I thought they outphysicaled us, which was disappointing.”
It was the third consecutive win, and fourth out of the last five games, for the Leathernecks.
Still, the fact Western Illinois maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game allowed Gravina to use his entire 13-player roster, including the first appearance of the season for Jayda Adams.
“I think everybody got to get some good minutes,” said Jada Thorpe, who led Western Illinois with 21 points. “I think it was a good game for us for confidence, building it.”
The Leathernecks held St. Xavier to 9-of-28 shooting in the second and third quarters.
“I think it was a big defensive booster,” said guard Allie Meadows, who grew up in nearby DeWitt and had a large crowd following for the game. “The couple of days of practice we had this week have been all about defense.”
“I definitely think winning the last three has been a momentum builder,” Thorpe said. “I think pretty much everybody is confident. You see it in practice — everybody is shooting it with confidence, driving it with confidence. So I definitely think momentum is something we’ve seen the last three games.”
And while the Leathernecks have been able to string together some wins, Gravina still has some concerns. They were outrebounded 44-39, giving up 21 second-chance points.
“There’s just the physicality in our league, and I think it’s going to be a struggle,” Gravina said. “And so I think it’s good for us as a team to be aware of that.”
Photo: Western Illinois guard Elizabeth Lutz (left) defends St. Xavier’s Aaliyahna Derrell in Friday’s game.