The way Jamillah Bonner plays basketball presents a good kind of dilemma for Wichita State women’s coach Jody Adams.
“Sometimes her tenaciousness and the pit in her is so much it can hurt you at times,” Adams said. “Sometimes she’s so passionate about getting it done, she’ll try to play all five positions for you. As a coach, that’s a great thing to have to handle and have to manage.”
Wichita State (24-6) had Bonner near her best on Friday evening, and the Wichita native helped the Shockers to a 71-53 victory over seventh-seeded Missouri State in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
The Shockers will face sixth-seeded and 19-loss Illinois State, which upset Northern Iowa 65-63, in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Bonner has had more than 19 points and four steals — her Friday totals — before, but her boundless energy came at an opportune time against Missouri State for the second time in a week.
“When things were not going well, we counted on J.B. to get us going on both sides of the ball,” Adams said. “She really pulled this team back together.”
Wichita State’s half-court offense was again plagued by lethargic play in the first half, but Bonner rescued several lost possessions by aggressively attacking the basket.
That hasn’t always led to efficient shots, as Bonner is prone to reckless decisions that end in a poor shot or turnover. But on Friday, Bonner’s energy was on point and generated mostly positive plays.
Bonner scored 10 points in as many minutes to begin the game as the Shockers put Missouri State in a 12-point hole, 24-12.
“I feel like that’s my role on the team,” Bonner said. “I continue to give the team energy and continue to hype them up to keep them going to the next play.”
Missouri State briefly threatened, trimming WSU’s lead to 27-25 with 4:41 remaining in the first half.
But the Bears were too careless with the basketball, turning the ball over 27 times against Wichita State’s trapping zone press.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge for us to handle the ball with a low amount of turnovers,” said Missouri State coach Kellie Harper, whose team averaged 24 turnovers in three losses this season to WSU. “They’re pretty relentless for 40 minutes.”
The turnovers gave WSU’s offense the margin of error it requires to comfortably win, as the Shockers scored 26 points off turnovers to offset 15 turnovers of their own. The offense was carried by Bonner, Alex Harden (20 points, 10 rebounds), and Michelle Price (14 points).
While a mediocre offensive effort was enough to defeat the Bears, it might not be against Illinois State and potentially Indiana State, two teams that exposed WSU’s weakness in February losses.
That’s where Bonner comes in.
Her passion is infectious and when the Shockers hit their lulls, Bonner can be invaluable in being the spark.
“She’s very different from (her teammates),” Adams said. “Not to say that it’s not in them, that tenaciousness. But she brings it out of Alex and Kelsey (Jacobs) and Michelle. And there’s no one else like that on our team.”