NORMAL — Kristen Gillespie recently gave her entire Illinois State women’s basketball roster the assignment of making 500 shots they would attempt in a game situation.
After Paige Saylor scored a career-high 15 points and hit both of her 3-point tries Friday against Missouri State, Gillespie gave her freshman point guard “an A-plus on your homework.”
Saylor’s production was among the positives from a six-point loss to the Bears as ISU prepares to face Southern Illinois in a 2 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference game Sunday at Redbird Arena with free admission on Pack the Arena Day.
“It’s not surprising to us. We see how much time she’s putting in,” Gillespie said of Saylor. “She is a scorer. We know it’s in there, and we’re trying to bring it out. She makes us a different team when she looks to score.”
Saylor entered Friday’s game with a 5.0 scoring average, having connected on just 4 of 29 from 3-point range.
“It was more like a confidence thing. After you miss one, you’re like ‘it’s not going to fall.'" said Saylor, who leads the Valley with 42 steals. “I think the 500 makes definitely helped bring up my confidence.”
The Redbirds slipped to 6-9 and 0-4 in the MVC with Friday's 56-50 loss to Missouri State.
"It’s just a snippet of what we can do," junior guard Viria Livingston said of a fourth-quarter surge that brought ISU from a 12-point deficit to within four. "It shows we can do it and we can come back. I’m looking forward to our next couple games and our first (MVC) win."
Gillespie also was encouraged despite her team's losing streak stretching to four.
"I know that first win is coming," she said. "We just have to keep believing and keep chipping away."
Missouri State held ISU leading scorer Simone Goods to three points. Gillespie said Goods will need to continue to adjust to playing under intense scrutiny of opposing defenses.
"Her life doesn't get easier. There is never going to be a one-on-one situation where she has the luxury of catching and scoring," said the ISU coach. "It's going to be really tough for her to score. She's got to work longer. It's not that initial post up, it's holding that post up and waiting for the ball to get reversed."
The Salukis are 9-7 overall and 4-1 in league play after two Nicole Martin free throws with six seconds left provided the winning margin for a 63-62 triumph over Bradley on Friday in Peoria.
Southern has four players scoring in double figures in 6-foot-1 senior Kylie Giebelhausen (11.8), 6-1 freshman Abby Brockmeyer (10.8, 7.6 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore Martin (10.8) and 5-11 freshman Makenzie Silvey (10.4).
Tremont sophomore Lauren Hartman has played in 13 games and is averaging 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds for the Salukis.
The game also is a reunion of the VanHyfte sisters. Celina is a redshirt junior at Southern who has started seven games and averages 3.9 points. ISU sophomore Morgan VanHyfte has yet to play this season while recovering from knee surgery.
On Pack the Arena day, popcorn and cookies will be sold for $1 with a halftime performance by Gamma Phi Circus.
In honor of 25 years of women's athletics in the MVC, former Redbird players will be recognized.