Bradley coach Geno Ford discussed Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. game against UE at the Ford Center on Monday’s Missouri Valley coaches teleconference.
The Braves, after a last-second win over the weekend against Missouri State, are 12-7 overall and 4-3 in MVC play, good for fourth ahead of the fifth-place Aces.
Bradley’s already exceeded last season’s seven win total, marking the fifth-best improvement so far from last year. “I think we’re a lot tougher than we were,” Ford said. “I think anytime you walk into a situation like we did when you have to rebuild from the bottom, you spend most of your energy like we still do in just the process of improvement and what’s lacking in the program. We were the softest team I’ve ever seen 18 months ago. Now we’ve still got strides that need to be made for us to become an upper-division team in this league, but at least we’re trending in the right direction right now.”
Last season UE beat Bradley 90-67 at the Ford Center and won 92-62 on the road. “A year ago, Evansville beat us twice,” Ford Center. “I mean, it was almost 70 points combined in the two games. They beat us worse than anyone in the league except for maybe Wichita. It would have been close between those two. But we just didn’t have any toughness really in the program and didn’t have any mentality for that stuff. I think we’ve made some improvements, and it’s shown up in our wins and losses. But we’re not world beaters yet, so we’ve got to stick with the process of knowing where we’ve been and where we want to get to.”
Ford said he has seen UE’s losses last week to Drake and Indiana State, both games where the Aces’ offense sputtered in the second half: “Watching them on tape, I think a couple things. Like all of us, they looked a little bit maybe leg weary last week in film more so than what they did earlier in the year. I think all our teams go through that. We kind of went through that two weeks ago. I’m sure they’ll bounce back. They’re without question one of the toughest teams in the league both mentally, and they’re very physical. They’re under-sized, which they use to their advantage. They get up underneath you, they bang you, and they do a good job showing their hands. They’re probably right up there with Wichita for the most physical team in the league.”
Ford on UE’s team overall: “You’ve got four seniors that have been through it and know how to play and know what Marty (Simmons) wants offensively. They do a good job of sharing the ball. I’ve been very impressed with them on tape. I think when this whole thing shakes out, they’re still going to be in the mix for that three seed when it all ends.”
The Braves will have sixth-year senior Will Egolf available against UE. Ford suspended the 6-foot-9 Egolf four games from Jan. 2-12 after the forward/center was arrested on drug charges. Having Egolf back has “helped two ways,” Ford said. “First, offensively he’s our best spot-up shooter and he starts at center for us, so it draws the other team’s bigs away from the rim which gives some space for our two guards — (Walt) Lemon and (Dyricus) Simms-Edwards — to drive the ball. So he’s essential for us on that end even if he’s not making shots because people have to guard him. And then on the defensive end, he’s the best communicating big guy I’ve had in a long time. And then when you factor in that he’s our leading defensive rebounder, leader in blocked shots and leader in charges taken — he’s taken more charges than the rest of our team combined…We are 100 times better with him than without him. That’s a fact.”