Northwest women’s basketball coach Austin Meyer sat in front of a room full of reporters Jan. 28 at the Northwest Athletics media luncheon inside of Pizza Ranch when he expressed that one of the goals for the team was to play in the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, March 4-8.
That goal, with now less than a month left in the regular season, is still attainable.
“We always talk about getting better every day,” Meyer said. “One of the tangible goals that we had with our program was to get to Kansas City. … To get there would be a big step for us moving forward.”
As of Jan. 6, the Bearcats had a record of 8-5 that had the program sitting at fifth in the conference. That night’s win over Rogers State was the last one that Northwest has seen.
Since then, the ’Cats have dropped five straight, leaving them toeing the line of either watching the postseason or being a part of it. That is in part due to the continued absence of senior guard Kendey Eaton due to injury. The void put there from the team’s leading scorer was coupled with a formidable schedule against some of the top programs in the country. Those two reasons, among others, have left a handful of games that haven’t been kind to the Bearcats.
The losing skid, Meyer said, isn’t something that’s continuously on the minds among people in the program. The Bearcats are still hoping to get to the MIAA Tournament, which requires, at least, a decent second half to the season.
The problem is: second halves have seemed to be the ghost that haunts the Bearcats.
The freshest example came against No. 10 Fort Hays. Northwest had scraped, clawed and defended its way to a 7-point lead at the break.
“That was probably our most complete half of the year,” Meyer said. “But as we know, it’s a four-quarter game.”
Meyer’s proclamation is common knowledge. For Northwest, the second half of games have been a key struggle throughout the losing skid. In the last five games, the Bearcats have been outscored 184-141 in the second half.
Following their best half of basketball was a half that was one to forget, one that saw a lapse in defensive execution and one that saw Hays walk away with an 11-point victory.
That’s where the program is, Meyer said minutes after the loss Jan. 25. It’s in a spot where it had to keep fighting and grinding to get better.
“Good teams, that’s what they do,” Meyer said about Hays. “They’re gonna fight you all of the way through the game. So we’ve just gotta be able to handle adversity and be ready to play, you know, extremely hard.”
In some ways, the hot start was due to inserting senior guard Mallory McConkey into the starting lineup for the first time this year. McConkey sat out the first half of the season due to injury. Since her return, she has served as the sixth-man for the Bearcats, often providing a spark to both ends of the floor.
“Right now she’s just playing at a really high level for us,” Meyer said. “I think with her being injured early, and out, it was one of those things that, you know, she probably starts at the beginning of the season for us.”
“I’m probably not overly smart for not putting her in the starting lineup somewhere earlier,” Meyer joked.
The Bearcats will have an opportunity to modify their recent losing ways when they travel to Wichita, Kansas Jan. 30 to face Newman (9-11, 4-7 MIAA). The Jets and Bearcats play once this year, which will be the first meeting between programs in the history of the NCAA.
The matchup holds significance when it comes to seeding in the conference, one that’s close enough as is. The winner of the game will have the tiebreaker in the instance that the two teams are separated by only that, which is very possible with Newman currently in ninth.
Following the game against Newman will be a trip to Edmond, Oklahoma, to face Central Oklahoma (14-5, 8-3 MIAA). The road trip will be the first since the Jan. 11 loss to Washburn.
“I think it’ll be good for our kids and our team to get back on a bus and be all together where that main focus is basketball,” Meyer said. “Home games are great … but I think we focus better on the road.”
Despite the record of the opponent, Meyer said, Northwest has to stick to what it does best. The Bearcats have been in close games with teams among the likes of Central Missouri and Hays. The Bearcats have also been in games that resulted in blowout victories. Nothing prior to each matchup, Meyer said, matters when it comes time to play the game.
“We can’t go in with a mindset of ‘This team’s not as good as the ones that we’ve played,’” Meyer said. “(Newman) doesn’t have the record of some of the teams we’ve played, but it’s a team that’s going to play hard. So if we don’t come in and prepare and have a mindset that we’re playing a top-three team in the league we’re gonna be in trouble.”