Burden rests with Panther ‘D’ in WNIT

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Now that the Panthers have found their scoring touch, they’ve got to shore up their defense.

The Northern Iowa women’s basketball team takes the court tonight in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, facing host Marquette at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

The 7 p.m. game is the sixth all-time meeting between the two schools. It will not be televised.

Northern Iowa (16-16), like the Golden Eagles (16-15), average just shy of 64 points per game. The Panthers’ 75-71 overtime loss to Wichita State in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament mark the first time this season, however, that the Panthers eclipsed 70 points and failed to win.

They’re 13-1, with that lone loss being the only one that reached overtime.

In order to keep the Eagles down, UNI will likely focus its attention on Marquette’s top scorer and rebounder. That’s Katherine Plouffe, a 6-foot-3 junior forward from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She leads the Eagles with 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Plouffe is also tops in assists (2.8 per game), second in blocked shots and third in steals.

Arlesia Morse, a 5-10 sophomore guard from Flint, Mich., adds 12.3 points per game thanks to a team-leading 51 3-pointers.

The Golden Eagles are playing in the postseason for the first time since 2011, when they went 1-1 in the NCAA tournament. They placed 10th in the Big East this season and are 5-2 in non-conference home games.

Northern Iowa is led by none other than Jacqui Kalin. The 5-8 senior point guard was named the Jackie Stiles Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year for the second time in her illustrious career, and she averages 19.7 points per game to lead the Panthers into the postseason for the fourth year in a row.

Last year’s UNI squad went 3-1 in the Women’s Basketball Invitational, falling to Minnesota 88-74 in the tournament championship game with Kalin missing the season due to knee surgery.

The prior two seasons, with a healthy Kalin running the show, Northern Iowa advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Kalin has scored at least 20 points in five of UNI’s last seven games.

Amber Kirschbaum, the Panthers’ only other senior starter, has notched double-digit scoring each of the last four games, including a season-high 23 in the MVC semifinals. The 6-foot forward is averaging 8.1 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per outing.

AGWSR graduate Jess McDowell, a 6-1 junior from Steamboat Rock, is contributing 5.3 ppg off the bench for the Panthers.