For Northwest women’s basketball, the second half of the season is rather vital to the fate of the program’s 2019-20 campaign.
The fate, of course, was worrisome heading into a road trip to face Newman Jan. 30 and Central Oklahoma Feb. 1.
Five straight losses left the Bearcats at 10th in the conference, which would be enough to squeak into the last spot of the MIAA Tournament March 4-7.
With the team’s goal of making it to the tournament hanging in the balance, it picked up wins over both the Jets (9-13, 4-9 MIAA) and the Bronchos (15-6, 9-4 MIAA).
“We’re still confident that we’re getting better,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “To get those wins was definitely huge for the psyche of our team.
Both wins came in bouts that were blow-for-blow. Northwest managed to take Newman to double overtime, eventually resulting in a 70-67 win. The win, of course, was certain at the end of both extra periods. However, everything up to that point, wasn’t so certain.
The victory marked the first double-overtime win for the program since Jan. 25, 1984. With three seconds left, Newman had an opportunity for a last-second heave. That shot was to no avail. With it went Newman’s hopes of having the tiebreaker should the Bearcats and Jets finish with the same conference record.
That same hope, for Northwest, never wavered.
“We made plays when we needed to,” Meyer said. “We never got our heads down when they hit shots, even when they scored at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. Our team came back to the huddle, and it was like, ‘Here we go. We’ve got five more minutes to play.’ It wasn’t heads down; I think it shows a lot about our team.”
Perhaps the most notable game of the year for the women was followed by one that would, in some ways, prove to be bigger. On the heels of the thriller against Newman came a matchup with the No. 3 team in the conference at the time.
Northwest had been in games against top-ranked teams among the likes of Central Missouri, Emporia State and Fort Hays. In all of those games, Northwest put up a fight that would be refuted by bigger ones from those teams.
Against Central Oklahoma, the fight that the Bearcats provided would result in a knockout.
Both of the wins kept Northwest’s hope of making it to Municipal Auditorium alive and now leads the Bearcats back to Bearcat Arena for a pair of home games against Central Missouri Feb. 6 and Lincoln Feb. 8.
The matchup with the Jennies serves as a rematch from a game that Northwest was a part of for the first three quarters. In the fourth, it was outmatched by Central Missouri (17-3, 11-0 MIAA). The team, Meyer said, is different this time around than it was in the Dec. 7 matchup in Warrensburg, Missouri.
With the matchup coming in the wake of one of the Bearcats’ biggest wins of the year, they have the momentum to perhaps tally a new biggest win of the season.
“I think we just have a lot of added confidence that we might not have had earlier on in the season,” junior guard Jaelyn Haggard said. “So coming off of two really big wins last week only boosts our confidence going against a team like this. We’re excited to go out and compete and redeem ourselves from what we lacked before.”
Lincoln provides a challenge that presents itself as not much of one at all. The Blue Tigers, of course, aren’t going to let the Bearcats win. But they’ve failed to win a game in the conference this season. In the first meeting of the season with the Blue Tigers Dec. 5, Northwest won 56-32. Both games, of course, are crucial towards deciding what fate lies ahead for the Bearcats.
It’s a destiny that they ultimately control.
That confidence was reiterated by Meyer, the second-year coach who is ready for the task that some might think is too tall.
“I think we know we can beat (Central),” Meyer said. “Obviously we’re going to have to play really well. But I think our kids are excited about the challenge of Central coming.”
For Haggard and the rest of the program, the two seasons prior to this one were filled with a lot of things other than success. With less than a month left before finding out where the Bearcats lie come the conference tournament, the feeling of having a chance to play in the postseason is becoming possible.
“I think every year we’ve taken significant steps. Especially this year, the growth of our team has been tremendous,” Haggard said. “It’s really exciting to know that it’s within reach, but not getting overly excited because we’re taking it game-by-game. … But just knowing it’s right there if we work hard enough for it.”