On the heels of a statement win and a heartbreaking loss, Northwest women’s basketball is looking to start its MIAA schedule on the right foot.
The Bearcats battled Florida Southern Nov. 29, a team that was runner-up in the South Region a season ago, a team that had won more than 20 games for each of the past five seasons. The result, for Northwest, was favorable, resulting in a 52-37 win over the Mocs. The second helping for the Bearcats in the MWSU Thanksgiving Classic was Nov. 30 against McKendree, a team that was undefeated before losing to Missouri Western the night prior to facing Northwest.
The Bearcats, continuing a streak of hot-and-cold performances, lost. In the battle of the Bearcats, the ones from Northwest failed to execute as well as the ones from McKendree. Defensive efforts that were good enough to will the Bearcats over the Mocs were substantially lesser against McKendree.
Halfway through the third quarter, Northwest held an 11-point lead against the Bearcats. Over the next quarter and a half, the Bearcats from Northwest watched that slowly vanish, eventually falling 77-69 in overtime.
“That was a huge win,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said about the victory over Florida Southern. “I thought we defended really well; we weren’t great offensively. … To still be able to win a game like that, without playing great offensively, was huge for us.”
With those two matchups in the rearview, the Bearcats are ready to start their conference schedule, one that hasn’t been kind to the program as of late. After finishing 4-15 in the MIAA last year, Northwest will start its conference season Dec. 5 against Lincoln.
In the aftermath of the matchup with the Blue Tigers (1-6), the Bearcats will be tasked with facing conference powerhouse Central Missouri (4-3). The Bearcats, Meyer said, are significantly better heading into the heart of the season compared to a season ago.
“I just think, with our freshmen coming along, just our size, we’re much better rebounding team,” Meyer said. “With all of our returners, just how good they are, individually, it’s a different team. We know we’ve still got a ways to go to get to where we want to be, but we’re in a much better position.”
The Bearcats focus ahead of the matchups with Lincoln and Central, Meyer said, is to execute better offensively. With the junior guard Mallory McConkey absent due to injury with an uncertain timetable to return, the offense has ran almost exclusively through another senior guard in Kendey Eaton.
Eaton averages 16.3 points per contest while shooting 39%. The best offense for Northwest, Meyer said, is through Eaton, which can at times be problematic.
“That’s our best offense right now but that’s not something that we can do for a whole half,” Meyer said. “There are times to do that but we need to be better offensively execution wise so that we’re more balanced scoring.”
The Bearcats hold an above .500 record, something the program isn’t too used to in recent memory. Despite possibly the most effective player, McConkey, out with an injury, the Bearcats find themselves in that position that isn’t all too familiar.
“It isn’t too comforting because I think that we should be 5-2 right now,” Meyer joked. “No, it’s good to know that we’re able to compete. … She’s a big piece but everybody’s gotta be ready each and every day, you never know what injuries you’re going to have and who’s gonna have to step up.”
Meyer is looking to change the program that he inherited a season ago. In his second year, the first step in the right direction starts in Jefferson City, Missouri, against Lincoln. The process, Meyer said, is rather simple.
“Just compete,” Meyer said. “We know there’s going to be adversity on the road, it’s tough in this league, no matter who you’re playing. But if we can come in and defend — guarding the basketball is going to be huge — but if we can defend we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”