CHICAGO — Seven Valparaiso players scored six or more points Saturday as the Crusaders dominated UIC for a 73-55 win.
The Crusaders came in as heavy favorites, and here’s how they avoided any chance of a major upset.
22 second-chance points for Valparaiso. Valparaiso is one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, and it tore apart UIC on the offensive glass. The Crusaders rebounded 53.7 percent of their misses and finished the game with more second-chance points than UIC scored total in the entire first half.
UIC also had a solid day on the offensive boards, grabbing 16 rebounds. However, the Flames converted those into only 16 points, several of which came during garbage time.
Missed layups. Valparaiso is a dominant defensive team around the rim, largely thanks to senior center Vashil Fernandez. While Fernandez had six rejections Saturday to set the Valparaiso record for career blocks, UIC missed a handful of point-blank layups early in the game when Flames players beat Fernandez to the rim or when the big man was on the bench.
In the long run, scoring an extra six or so points may not have mattered in a 73-55 blowout. However, those plays were crucial in terms of keeping the game close early and allowing UIC to put some pressure on the heavy favorite.
Missed free throws. If there’s a weakness in Valparaiso’s nation-leading defense, it’s that the Crusaders are willing to foul to prevent success from the field. UIC took advantage, getting to the line 18 times in a 33-possession first half. However, the Flames made only seven of their attempts.
The Flames were a bit less effective reaching the foul line in the second half, and in their limited chances they continued to struggle. They finished 15-of-32 from the stripe (46.9 percent).
Dikembe Dixson is fearless. The UIC freshman shot 2-of-9 in the first half but came attacking right away in the second.
The Flames made a brief comeback in the second half to cut the Crusaders’ lead to 12 points. Dixson was the driving force. The 6-foot-7 wing scored 11 points after halftime and also had a pair of steals.
We will find out Monday if his 18 points and seven rebounds were enough to earn yet another Horizon League Freshman of the Week award.