Haley Simental

UNK point guard Haley Simental finished with a game-high 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting and added five rebounds and six assists in UNK’s 79-69 win over Minnesota-Crookston on Friday night at the Health and Sports Center.

KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney held a 17-point lead after Brooke Carlson’s layup in the early seconds of the third quarter Friday night.

But, Minnesota-Crookston whittled away the Lopers’ advantaged during the next 13 minutes of the second half. The Lopers’ lead was down to one point and the game started to resemble last season when at times a then-inexperienced Loper team would fade in the second half.

The Lopers kept their composure, however, and didn’t relinquish the lead, prevailing 79-69 over the Golden Eagles at the Health and Sports Center in their first game of the season.

"That’s progress, and I think that should be a little bit attributed to freshmen being sophomores now and sophomores being juniors now," said UNK coach Carrie Eighmey. "A little bit more experience. I thought we handled that better than we maybe showed last year."

After the Golden Eagles (0-1) drained their first six shots, the Lopers’ pesky defense rarely allowed an uncontested attempt the rest of the first half. The high-end play defensively allowed the Lopers (1-0) to coast into halftime with a 43-28 lead.

The Lopers’ defensive play slipped in the third quarter, though. The Golden Eagles strung together nine straight points to cut the Lopers’ lead to 49-46.

With the Lopers’ confidence starting to waver, graduate point guard Haley Simental scored two straight baskets.

Simental stepped up once again in the fourth quarter when the Lopers’ lead was just 65-64. She dribbled into the paint and sank a jumper from the free throw line with less than seven minutes left.

Simental’s basket allowed the Lopers to gain some breathing room and ended up being the closest the Golden Eagles came to tying or taking the lead the remainder of the game.

"(Minnesota-Crookston) could’ve easily shut it down going into the halftime, but they came out and were really aggressive," Eighmey said. "I thought maybe we relaxed a little bit defensively in that third quarter and maybe didn’t dictate as much as we had been in the first half defensively."

Friday marked Simental’s first contest with the Lopers. The Pueblo West, Colo., native spent her first four years at University of Denver. Injuries hindered her four-year Division I career, and she transferred to the Lopers in the offseason. On Friday, her talent, leadership qualities and playmaking abilities were on display.

Simental finished with a game-high 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting and added five rebounds and six assists.

"She’s super hungry and has done a great job of stepping into a leadership role," Eighmey said. "She made some really good plays for us. She ran the team really effectively. I think we only had five turnovers — that might be a record for us."

Carlson added 22 points and nine rebounds for the Lopers, while Aspen Jansa contributed 10 points off the bench.

The Lopers have a quick turnaround, as they face Wayne State College (Neb.) at 5:30 p.m. today (Saturday) at the Health and Sports Center.

daniel.zielinski@kearneyhub.com

@DanZielinski3

UNK 79, UMC 69

Scores by Quarter

UMC (0-1) 15 13 25 16 — 69

UNK (1-0) 20 23 14 22 — 79

Minnesota-Crookston

Mary Burke 5-9 1-3 13, Bren Fox 10-14 2-3 23, Emma Carpenter 2-5 -0- 4, Paige Cornale 5-7 0-0 11, Paige Weakley 0-3 1-2 1, Kylea Praska 1-2 0-0 2, Kylie Post 0-2 1-2 1, Abby Guidinger 2-6 0-0 5, Julia Peplinski 3-5 0-1 6, Alyssa Peterson 1-4 0-0 3.

Nebraska-Kearney

Brooke Carlson 8-14 6-6 22, Haley Simental 10-17 2-2 26, Maegan Holt 1-8 3-4 5, Klaire Kirsch 2-7 0-0 4, Kelsey Sanger 1-5 0-0 3, Elisa Backes 0-3 0-2 0, Aspen Jansa 3-4 2-2 10, Madison Dreckman 2-6 0-0 4, Trinity Law 1-5 2-2 5.

3-pointers — UMC 6-17 (Burke 2-5, Fox 1-1, Carpenter 01, Cornale 1-2, Weakley 0-2, Praska 0-1, Guidinger 1-2, Peterson 1-3), UNK 8-23 (Simental 4-8, Holt 0-2, Sanger 1-3, Backes 0-2, Jansa 2-3, Dreckman 0-2, Law 1-3). Rebounds — UMC 39 (Fox 8, Peplinski 7), UNK 34 (Carlson 9). Total fouls — UMC 12, UNK 11. Fouled out — None. Assists — UMC 13 (Carpenter 4), UNK 17 (Simental 6). Turnovers — UMC 20, UNK 5. Blocks — UMC 5 (Burke 2), UNK 3 (Carlson 1, Backes 1, Dreckman 1).

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