Northwest women’s basketball honored six departing seniors Feb. 13 against Missouri Southern on Senior Day. Besides celebrating the career of these athletes, the Bearcats had one more gift in store.
A 78-55 triumph completed a season sweep over the Lions for the first time since the 2009-10 season and marked the Bearcats’ seventh conference win, the most they’ve had in 8 years.
“I think the underlying theme of this team is adversity. I am proud to be a part of the team that has been built from the ground up, and this senior class especially has done a great job of establishing connectivity and dedication,” senior guard Jaelyn Haggard said. “To have the most wins in that many years says a lot about our character and determination to get better.”
The Bearcats were looking to add to their conference win total Feb. 16 against Washburn, which would have been the first meeting between the two programs this season. However, the game was postponed to Feb. 23 due to Northwest's campus closure because of extreme cold temperatures.
The attention is now placed on Emporia State (14-4) as Northwest travels to Emporia, Kansas, Feb. 18. The Hornets sit in the fourth spot in the MIAA rankings, already clinching a spot in the MIAA Tournament.
The last meeting between the two teams came Jan. 19, a game in which the Bearcats entered the fourth quarter leading by 7 points. A full-court press, along with points in transition for the Hornets, caught Northwest off guard, resulting in a 58-51 loss in Bearcat Arena.
“That game, we struggled again to score in the fourth quarter, and we got open shots,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy in that fourth quarter. We looked like we got a little fatigued, and they made plays. You got to give them credit. We just have to compete all the way through, and I think we’re a team that has improved offensively.”
Northwest had to face a lot of adversity in the contest, beginning with having a two-week rest period due to COVID-19 protocols within the program. Jumping back into the gauntlet of MIAA competition with limited physical activity was not an ideal situation for the Bearcats.
The other obstacle Northwest dealt with was overcoming senior guard Kylie Coleman, who had the highest 3-pointer shooting percentage, falling to the ground going after a rebound, grabbing her left knee. The collision resulted in a season-ending ACL injury.
While the Bearcats come into the second matchup against the Hornets without Coleman and not as fatigued, they still have to contain Emporia’s sophomore point guard Tre’Zure Jobe. Jobe is averaging 20.6 points on 43% shooting, including 34% from beyond the arc. She is physical during off-ball screens, can finish at the rim and can shoot from any area on the court.
In Bearcat Arena, Jobe finished with a game-high 25 points, including 5 in the last minute to give the Hornets a 56-51 lead with 17.5 seconds left. Keeping Jobe contained will be an all-around team effort.
“We got to keep her in front. We have to make sure we don’t let her get angles. If she’s coming off-ball screens, we have to make sure our hedge people are staying with the ball and not leaving early, giving her space,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be a team effort of trying to keep her corralled. She’s definitely one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the league.”
Coleman was given the task of guarding Jobe in the first matchup, but with her being out due to injury, Haggard now takes on that challenge. Meyer will also look to put some size on her with the Bearcats’ post players, hoping to disrupt her shot.
Traditionally, Emporia is known for mixing its defense up. The Bearcats are expecting to see a more aggressive half-court zone, including full court pressure. Northwest will have to look down the floor against the pressure and come to the pass instead of letting it float in the air.
Although Emporia came out in a zone defense last contest, the ’Cats have to be ready for any tricks up the Hornets’ sleeves. A couple of years ago, Meyer had his team prepare against the zone, but the Hornets stuck with man-to-man defense for 40 minutes.
A recent theme in the Bearcats’ offense is 3-point shooting, including 14 made 3-pointers against Missouri Southern and a season-high 17 3-pointers Feb. 6 against Missouri Western.
“We are obviously going to take the open 3’s when they’re open, but we won't strap ourselves to it if we don’t have to. We have seen a lot of success in our offense when we get the ball moving and in everybody’s hands throughout the possession,” Haggard said. “If that means we work it around and it leads to an open 3, we’ll let out good shooters take those shots. If we have inside looks, we will definitely utilize those as well.”
The comeback win for Emporia left a bad taste in the mouth of the Bearcats but keeping the contest close with a top-tier MIAA team gives them hope for capturing a win the second time around.
“We obviously want to compete with them. We saw how close we could last game; we just didn’t finish the job,” Haggard said. “We know we have the capability to win against a team like that, but that only happens when we play our best basketball on both ends of the court.”