With respect to the quality of competition, the first half of the MIAA schedule has been quite friendly to the Northwest Missouri State women's basketball team.
Of their first eight MIAA games, five have come against teams that occupy the bottom five spots in the conference right now.
Beginning with Saturday's 1:30 p.m. tilt against No. 16 Central Missouri that concludes a stretch of six of seven on the road, the schedule takes a nasty turn in the other direction.
Seven of Northwest's last 10 opponents are ranked in the top seven of the MIAA, and two other games are with Fort Hays State, a team that was once ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation.
"We're finishing up the road gauntlet," said Northwest Missouri State head women's coach Mark Kellogg. "Now, we get the gauntlet from quality opponents. It's two different types. It's certainly going to test us over the next several weeks."
Northwest (10-6, 4-4) had won two straight games before losing to Southwest Baptist 76-74 in Bolivar Tuesday, dropping the Bearcats to 1-4 on the road in conference.
The Bearcats shot 56.3 percent from the field and 64 in the second half, but gave up their season-high tying point total to a team that came in on a five-game losing streak.
"Offensively, we've been much better over the last several weeks, but we took a huge step back defensively," said Kellogg. "It's certainly disappointing to shoot 57 percent and lose a game. We got to get that corrected because we play a really good offensive team Saturday."
To avoid falling to 1-5 on the road, Northwest will have to spring an upset of the Jennies (14-2, 6-2) who are 10-0 at home this year.
Central Missouri had an eight-game win streak snapped Saturday in Kirksville, but rebounded to beat Missouri Western 74-71 in overtime Wednesday.
Going into play Thursday night, the Jennies were tied with Truman State for third place.
The Jennies are the MIAA's top scoring team, averaging 75.3 points per game, and rank second in three-point percentage (.380).
Central's top four scorers all average at least 13 points per game, although second leading scorer Shelby Winkelmann (17.8 ppg) has been out since Dec. 18 with an injury.
Leading scorer Keuna Flax, a 5-11 junior college All-American, has taken the MIAA by storm. In nine games since becoming eligible at semester, Flax is averaging 21.2 points and 6.7 rebounds. Only a lack of games played is keeping her from officially being the league's leading scorer.
"She's come in and lit the world on fire," said Kellogg. "She's as good as any player we've seen. And she's not the only one they have. That's for sure."
Page 2 of 2 - Junior guard Breanna Lewis registers 15.2 points per game and has made 42 three-pointer—second-most in the MIAA.
Senior forward Nicole Caddell averages a double-double with 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
She's No. 1 in the MIAA in rebounding and second in steals.
Northwest allows the fourth-fewest points in the MIAA and averages the fifth-most.
The Bearcats also rank fourth or higher in the three main shooting categories.
Northwest's sophomore post duo of Maggie Marnin (10.9 ppg) and Annie Mathews (9.4 ppg) each had double-doubles against Southwest Baptist.
Sophomore Ashleigh Nelson scored a team-high 18 points and made 3-5 three's, improving her season percentage to .453.
Starting point guard Monique Stevens (6.8 ppg) has scored in double-figures each of her last two games.
Reserve guard Meridee Scott is averaging over 11 points over the last three games.
The Bearcats were swept by Central Missouri last year.