NW WBB 1-14-20

Northwest women's basketball junior guard Jaelyn Haggard setting up the Bearcats' offense Nov. 29 at the MWSU Thanksgiving Classic in St. Joseph, Missouri. Haggard tallied 8 points in Northwest's 52-37 win over Florida Southern.

To this point in the season, every game has been magnified for Northwest women’s basketball.

The implications for every game have been a challenge of their own. Whether it be trying to turn the program around, grabbing statement wins or trying to have an uprising in the MIAA, every game has had an implication.

When rival Missouri Western makes the 45-minute drive north Jan. 18 to Bearcat Arena, the Bearcats will have an opportunity to do all three of those things.

“It’s a big game,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “It’s gonna be a great atmosphere. Their women are playing really well right now. … It’s gonna be a big challenge for us — hopefully, we’ll be ready to go.”

The Griffons (12-3) come into Maryville as winners of seven of their last eight games. The lone loss in that stint was Western’s latest outing against No. 16 Emporia State Jan. 11. Western, under former Texas Tech coach Candi Whitaker, is off to a 4-2 start in the conference, which has the Griffons at a tie for third in the MIAA.

The Bearcats (8-7), on the other hand, will prepare for the matchup on the heels of two road losses. The first was via the No. 16 Hornets as well. The second came due to an offensive struggle against Washburn, ultimately leading to the Bearcats’ first loss to the Ichabods since the beginning of the 2018-19 season.

The Bearcats key to success, Meyer said, is finding a way to better handle adversity. That, for the Bearcats, could lead to the Bearcats attaining the aforementioned marks for the program.

Another key is for the offense to get its shots to fall, Meyer said. Along with that, he added, it’s crucial to figure out different ways to score.

The women get a fair amount of their points from the free-throw line. The Bearcats, almost mirroring last year’s collective efforts, are the second-best free throw shooting team in Division II. For this year, the team is shooting 50% of its 816 field goal attempts from beyond the arc.

Although there are times that the Bearcats have lived from the latter approach, there are also times where the strategy has faltered.

“Hopefully we’re just finding more ways to score,” Meyer said. “We’re working on trying to post-up everyone on our team right now in practice … just finding other ways to get closer to the basket. We’re getting shots, what we feel like are pretty good shots; we’re just struggling to make them right now.”

No matter if it’s a coincidence or strategic scheduling from the MIAA, both teams will have a full week of preparation leading up to the contest. That, Meyer said, is something Northwest is looking forward to and taking advantage of.

“There’s a fine line of making sure you’re going hard enough to be ready to compete and making sure our kids are in shape,” Meyer said. “But we also want them to be fresh and ready to go when the ball goes up.”

The rivalry, for both Meyer and men’s coach Ben McCollum, is familiar. The pair of coaches, combined, have more than 10 years of experience when it comes to the conference clash. For Meyer, it’s his second year as a head coach in the matchup. For McCollum, it’s more years than can be counted on both hands.

For the players, the preparation might have added motivation. For both coaches, McCollum said, the preparation stays the same.

“They probably look more forward to it than other games,” McCollum said. “Naturally, when you’re 18-to-22 years old and you see No. 2 in the country, you’re naturally going to be that up for it. So that’s probably the same concept for a game like this.”

The women, unlike the men, aren’t the No. 2 team in the country. A shift towards that direction could be in the view of the Bearcats in the future. The view for the Bearcats, now, is on capturing the program’s first win over the Griffons since Jan. 27, 2018.

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