For the first time since 2013-14, Northwest women’s basketball eclipsed the mark of 10 wins in a season.
There was potential for that to happen Feb. 6 when the Bearcats squared off against No. 18 Central Missouri in Bearcat Arena. That potential diminished when the Jennies ran away in the fourth quarter to go home with a 73-60 win.
That same potential occurred Feb. 8 against Lincoln, the team that anchors the bottom of the MIAA standings. And, of course, it became a reality when the Bearcats clawed by the Blue Tigers 59-45.
“Yeah we’ve had the results that maybe we haven’t had in the past,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “I feel like we’ve made huge jumps. If we continue to focus on those little things — the process we talk about, the culture, all of that little stuff — the results will happen.”
The traditionally process-focused program has rather meaningful results that stand in front of them over the next three weeks which determine the fate of the season. With six games left in the regular season, the Bearcats (11-11, 6-7 MIAA) sit ninth in the conference, the top 10 teams reach the conference tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
Meyer has preached throughout the season that the only result the Bearcats focus on is the next one. That area of focus will come in the form of a matchup against Missouri Southern (7-14, 4-9 MIAA) Feb. 13 in Joplin, Missouri. The Lions, Meyer said, don’t present the record that other programs in the top-heavy conference do. However, he added, that doesn’t matter when the two teams meet.
“Just gotta have that mindset that we’re on the road again; it’s just us,” Meyer said. “We know we’ve gotta compete and play hard. Southern’s a team that is below us but they play well at home. And they’re a team that if we don’t come out ready to compete and play hard, we won’t win the game.”
Northwest has won three of its last four games. Prior to the Jan. 30 win over Newman, the Bearcats had lost five straight. Of those five, four came against teams that are in the top half of the conference. For Northwest to pile a win, or perhaps two, on to the one over Lincoln, the Bearcats are following the phrase Meyer has lived by over the past few weeks. That, he said, is the key to the ’Cats’ success going forward.
“Relentless aggression,” Meyer said. “Tired of that yet?”
“I don’t think that we changed our process or our mindset,” junior guard Zoie Hayward said about the recent success. “It’s just about coming in every day knowing that we have to get better and going into those games with an even higher mindset of, ‘OK, we’re going to play from jump ball to final buzzer as hard as we can.’”
Along with the matchup against Southern, the Bearcats will look to carry that motto into Pittsburg, Kansas, against Pitt State Feb. 15. The Gorillas (12-9, 8-7 MIAA) have already clinched a spot in the conference tournament. Which spot they’ll have is uncertain, much like if Northwest will have one at all.
“I don’t think it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re ninth, we have to win,’” Hayward said. “It’s just, I mean, we’re ninth. And we know if we compete and play like we know how to play then we can win, and we will make the tournament if we just keep doing that.”
For Northwest to guarantee itself a spot in the playoffs, it would have to go undefeated the rest of the way. Otherwise, it has to find some sort of success against Southern, Pitt State, Missouri Western and Washburn. That same success would have to be coupled with losses from Newman, Southern and Northeastern State.
The Bearcats, Meyer said, don’t have any added pressure down the stretch of the season. They are just going to compete and see what happens, he said. Any urgency, Hayward said, derives from the fact that the team doesn’t want to stop its progression throughout the tenure of Meyer.
In other words, to be safe, the Bearcats have to be unblemished throughout the final three weeks. That, Meyer said, is easier said than done.
“I guess our goal at the end of the day is to be perfect,” Meyer said. “Probably never will be but that’s the ultimate goal.”
The ultimate goal is something that isn’t attainable this season. With 11 losses on the year, Northwest is far from perfect. But to make a run towards and in the postseason, the Bearcats will have to play close to it.