After an encouraging 5-2 start to the season, Northwest Missouri State's women's basketball team encounters one of the friendliest week one MIAA schedules possible.
The Bearcats open conference play tonight at 5:30 p.m. against Lindenwood at Bearcat Arena and host Nebraska-Kearney Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Both first-year MIAA members, Lindenwood (1-4) was picked to finish 12th and Nebraska-Kearney (2-4) was picked last, one spot below Northwest.
"We're getting the 12th preseason picked team and the 15th and we're 14th, so I don't know what that really means," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Mark Kellogg. "We're just at home and yes, we want and expect to win our home games."
Northwest is seeking its first MIAA opening win since 2009-2010, one that would also guarantee them of winning at least as many games as last year. The Bearcats are 3-1 at home this season, losing only to William Jewell by three points in the final game of the Winstead-Reeves Classic.
Northwest concluded the pre-confernece portion of its schedule with a thrilling 71-68 win over Rogers State in its first true road game. Playing lockdown defense in the second half, the Bearcats overcame as much as a 21-point first half deficit and landed their first down-to-the-wire win of the season.
Northwest had lost its only two previous games decided by five points or less.
"I think it was a confidence-booster, one, just getting down 21 points and finding a way to win is huge," said Kellogg. "They shot lights out in the first half and that was just ridiculous the shots they were making, but they made them. We did enough just to go down 12 at the half and made plays down the stretch."
Northwest forced 20 turnovers in the game and currently leads the MIAA in steals with 13.4 per game.
The Bearcats also rank third in three-point percentage (.400) and fourth in field goal percentage (.464).
Northwest has three players averaging double-figures and is just shy of having a fourth.
Hometown product Meridee Scott enters conference play as the team's leading scorer with 12.7 points per game. She had a team-high 17 points at Rogers State. Sophomore guard Ashleigh Nelson is second on the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game and leads the MIAA in three-pointers made with 19.
Freshman guard Tember Schechinger is scoring 10.4 points per game on 60 percent shooting. Sophomore post player Maggie Marnin averages 9.6 points per game and is shooting 64 percent.
Lindenwood's only double-figure scorer is 6-1 freshman forward Tori Kuhn with 13.6 points per game.
Sophomore Julie Hlinak and junior Caorline Bourlioux each average better than nine per game.
Lindenwood is tied for 12th in the MIAA in scoring offense (66.8 points per game), 14th in field goal percentage defense (.435) and dead-last in scoring defense (71.8 points per game) and turnover margin.
Page 2 of 3 - It's lone offensive bright spot is its three-point shooting. The Lions are tied with Northwest in the conference in three-point percentage, but have made the second-fewest in the league.
Lindenwood is also the MIAA's fourth-best offensive rebounding team.
The Lions only win to this point came in its season opener against Division III Fontbonne 92-57.
They've lost their last four games by an average of 15 points.
"They're long, pretty athletic," said Kellogg. "I don't think they are great athletically, but they just got some length. They're like 5-11, 6-0 at every position other than the point guard or bigger. They can shoot it when they're open. Defensively, they're going to try to pressure us, try to extend it to full court and into the half-court, so yea, they're going to present some problems."
No more Naylor
A starter in each of the team's first four games, senior point guard Victoria Naylor sat out the Colorado Christian Tournament with an injury and then decided last week to leave the team for personal reasons.
She joins Emily Hauder, Courtney Jensen and Hannah Branch as players that started pre-season practice with Northwest, but are no longer part of the team.
Naylor was averaging 4.8 points per game while splitting time with junior college transfer Monique Stevens at the point.
Naylor transferred to Northwest last season from Division I Towson State and had to sit out the year because of eligibility issues. She had just one year of eligibility remaining.
"She could've brought a little bit of a different element because she can score off the dribble," said Kellogg. "We don't have a ton of those kids. We'll have to make up for it in other ways. We got plenty of kids that are more than willing to do that. We can't dwell on it. You got to move forward with the kids you have and want to be there and want to be in the program. We'll be fine without her."
Naylor's departure makes Stevens, an Australia native, the new starter at the point.
She's been in that role each of the last three games and is averaging close to 24 minutes on the season.
While shooting just 25 percent, Stevens ranks second on the team with 23 assists.
"I'm very comfortable to try to turn it over to her," said Kellogg. "She's taking the onus now to kind of run the team, run the show. Our kids voted her as a captain, so she's got the respect of everybody. Against Rogers State, she was really good. That's the best she's played and she's not even making shots. When she starts making some shots and doing all the other things she does, she's going to be really dynamite."
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