Given a week to regroup from back-to-back road losses, Northwest Missouri State's women's basketball team returns to the court Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to face rival Missouri Western at the MWSU Fieldhouse in St. Joseph.
The Bearcats (8-4, 2-2) are currently tied with three other teams for eighth place in the MIAA and need a win over the Griffons to avoid an 0-3 start to the new year. Much improved from a year ago, Missouri
Western (10-3, 3-2) beat Nebraska-Kearney 71-50 on the road Wednesday night and is tied with Northeastern State for sixth.
Western leads the all-time series with Northwest 30-26, with both teams winning on their homecourt last year.
This is the first meeting between the two programs involving first-year head coaches Mark Kellogg (Northwest Missouri State) and Rob Edmisson (Missouri Western).
Kellogg was hired to replace Gene Steinmeyer in April. Edmisson took over for Lynn Plett in March.
"I know it's a rivalry game, but I don't treat it any different," said Kellogg. "We need to play better and we want to win. Once we do that, we'll start feeling better. I haven't worried much about Western to this point (Tuesday). I'm more worried about us. There's a lot of details we have to get ironed out."
Northwest and Western have each beaten UNK in league play and lost on the road to Missouri Southern.
The Griffons boast impressive non-conference wins over No. 7 Metro State 66-55 and Division I UMKC 68-51. Their only other losses were to Truman State and No. 17 Fort Hays State.
Northwest had a four-game winning streak snapped at Missouri Southern last Thursday, then was blown out by No. 20 Pittsburg State 76-47 Saturday.
The Bearcats shot under 33 percent in both games and were out-rebounded by a combined marging of 90-53.
On the year, Northwest is shooting 43.2 percent and 34.9 from three. They remain the MIAA leader in steals with 158 and are second in turnover margin.
Junior guard Meridee Scott and sophomore Ashleigh Nelson share the team lead in scoring with 10.8 points per game. Maggie Marnin ranks third with 10.4 points per game and is second in the MIAA in field goal percentage (.595).
Freshman guard Tember Schechinger (9.8 ppg) and sophomore Annie Mathews (9.6 ppg) round out the team's top five scorers. Schechinger had a team-high 13 points in the loss to Pitt.
Missouri Western's roster has been largely overhauled from last year with the addition of 10 transfers.
The best of the bunch is 6-3 senior forward Heather Howard, a former player at Oklahoma State.
Howard averages a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. She's the MIAA's second leading rebounder and ranks third in blocks with 1.9 per game.
Page 2 of 2 - Howard is the only Griffon that averages in double-figures.
Junior guard Jaquitta Dever is second on the team with 9.4 points per game. Junior Lanicia Lawrence averages 9.1 points per game and a team-high 3.9 assists. Junior forward Sharniece Lewis is the team's top three-point shooter at 40.6 percent.
Western ranks just 12th in field goal percentage defense and 13th in three-point percentage defense. Offensively, the Griffons average 67.8 points per game but are 13th in field goal percentage and 14th in free throw percentage.
"They're going to be athletic," said Kellogg. "They've been kind of pressing and getting after people in the fullcourt. Offensively, they get good looks. That Oklahoma State transfer is great."