Although Oral Roberts’ starting lineup consists purely of upperclassmen, no one shined brighter Sunday afternoon than junior guard Kevi Luper.
The two-time All-American and reigning two-time Summit Player of the Year opened up eyes, dropping 34 points on Wisconsin (1-1) in Oral Roberts’ (2-0) Sunday afternoon 80-63 win over the Badgers at the Kohl Center. With a very efficient 14-23 performance from the field, Luper combined a solid stroke from outside with a hard-nosed finish in the paint. Luper went 4-8 from beyond the arc and also showed why she is the reigning conference player of the year, picking the Badgers’ pockets for five steals.
“She’s a very efficient player,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “It was a challenge. She only missed nine shots; the ones she took, she made. It’s a credit to her and her ability to read the defense, she hit the open jumpers.”
For Oral Roberts head coach Jerry Finkbeiner, Luper’s level of performance was one he has seen all too often. Luper led the NCAA in points per game (23.7) and steals per game (3.7) just a season ago, becoming the first in the history of Division I women’s basketball to lead the country in both categories.
“Tonight was very typical for [Luper],” Finkbeiner said. “To tell you the truth, I wish she would shoot more. She makes me look good and makes our offense looks like it’s running. She comes from a small town, a high-valued kid and an ORU poster child. She’s very driven as a basketball player and one of those ‘once every 10-to-15 years’ players a school like ours can get.”
The decisive 23-6 Oral Roberts run that spanned two halves saw Luper score no points but dish out two assists and record three steals. Even when it wasn’t Luper scoring, the junior’s fast paced offensive performance helped divert the attention from her teammates, as ORU seniors Georgia Jones and Jordan Pyle both scored in double figures.
“She has her own game,” Wisconsin senior Jade Davis said of Luper. “What she does, she does well and she prides herself on that. She’s her own player, she’s good, but we could have done more.”
Turnovers bite Badgers
The Golden Eagles brought the heat to the Badgers throughout the game. Opening up the game in a full-court zone trap defense, Oral Roberts applied heavy pressure on the Wisconsin guards. Halfway through the first half, the Golden Eagles relaxed the full-court pressure and ran a 2-1-2 zone trap in the half court.
“Our game plan is all about possessions,” Finkbeiner said. “In our defense, we’re going to give up a lot of easy shots but it’s all about getting the ball back on offense. We led the country last year in steals as a team, [Luper] led the country in steals individually the last two years. So it’s an important part of our game plan. The ideal games we play 40 straight minutes like we did.”
The combination of full-court and half-court pressure proved disastrous to the Badgers, as Wisconsin committed 31 turnovers, a team record at the Kohl Center. While Oral Roberts committed 15 turnovers of their own, the Golden Eagles made up for it with physical defense that seemed to, at times, fluster the Badgers. Altogether, the Golden Eagles recorded 23 steals against the Badgers, led by senior forward Jordan Pyle’s seven.
The Wisconsin turnovers served as a double-edged sword, as the Badgers not only lost 31 chances to score but also allowed Oral Roberts the opportunity to score 21 points off of turnovers.
“We can break the press in practice all day,” senior forward Ashley Thomas said. “It’s just coming into the game and having the confidence to do it. I feel like sometimes we look a little nervous. We just have to encourage each other and pass fake, make sharp passes and strong cuts. We do it in practice and now we just have to carry it over into the game.”