After going 1-5 on the road this month, Northwest Missouri State's women can take comfort that six of their last nine regular season games are at home where they've lost only once all year.
At the same time, it's not like the Bearcats will have it any easier.
All of their remaining home opponents and eight of their last nine overall are currently are ranked ahead them in the MIAA standings.
This differs greatly from the first half of conference play when the Bearcats played all of what are now the five worst teams in the league and beat three of them at home by an average of 19 points.
Head coach Mark Kellogg even admits this stretch is tougher than the one the Bearcats just went through.
"Any time you play the better team with better players regardless of where you play them the challenge is steeper," said Kellogg. "These games present a lot more problems. Your homecourt is nice and there's a comfort zone, but when you tip it up to a certain point, basketball just becomes basketball again. Being at home doesn't have much of an affect at all."
Coming off back-to-back losses, Northwest (10-7, 4-5) begins its home-heavy second half schedule with Northeastern State (13-5, 8-2) tonight at 5:30 p.m.
By far the best of the MIAA's four new members, the Riverhawks started Wednesday in a three-way tie atop the conference with No. 22 Truman State and No. 9 Washburn.
NSU is playing its best basketball of the year right now, having won five straight games.
In that stretch, they've beaten Washburn 52-43 and Pittsburg State 65-50, both at home. They are coming off a 69-45 road win over Missouri Southern.
The Riverhawks have been vulnerable against the MIAA's bottom teams on the road, losing to Lincoln 54-49 and beating UCO by just a point.
That bodes well for Northwest which hasn't beaten a top-half team, but has led in the second half against both No. 16 Central Missouri and Missouri Western on the road.
"I think we're capable of beating anybody," said Kellogg. "We got to go out and actually do that. That's the next step for us. Going on the road to Central Missouri showed us that if that's the 16th-best team in the country, then we can play with anybody. Now, there's still that fine line about playing with and beating. We haven't been able to beat that quality team yet. They're beatable, but you have to play well to win."
NSU, which swept a home-and-home from Northwest last year, operates a lot like the Bearcat men's team.
The Riverhawks play a deliberate, methodical style on offense that drains the clock, helping facilitate half-court, low-scoring games.
NSU ranks 14th in the MIAA in scoring offense (63.3 ppg), but has been successful by holding teams to just 52.6 ppg.
"They just do a good job both offensively and defensively," said Kellogg. "Their offense helps their defense because they don't get in a hurry and they run their offense. They never stop moving, so they take 20 seconds on about every offensive possession. It just limits the possessions in the game which helps their defense. Their guards are smart and they just keep you in front and make you have to score over the top of them. There's nothing flashy about it to be honest, but it's just very good and they're very disciplined."
A large chunk of NSU's offense comes from the three-point line.
The Riverhawks have made the most three's in the league (154) and shoot the second-highest percentage (.376).
Senior guard Taylor Lewis is the MIAA's second leading scorer at 16.0 ppg. She also leads the MIAA in three-pointers made (56) and is shooting 42.7 percent from distance.
Senior Tosha Tyler (11.7 ppg) is the team's other top long-range threat that the Bearcats zone defense will key on.
"We may have to mix it up a little bit more and keep an eye on certain people," said Kellogg. "We played zone the other night and one girl started going off, so we had to get out of that. We'll stick with what we've done over my career against teams that make a lot of three's. We have to be really good and stay within the structure or else you'll be in trouble real quick if you don't."
Northwest ranks fifth in the MIAA in scoring offense (68.1 ppg) and scoring defense (57.9 ppg).
The Bearcats held UCM well under its season average Saturday, but scored its second fewest points of the year in a 60-52 loss.
Northwest's three leading scorers are Ashleigh Nelson (11.4 ppg), Maggie Marnin (11.1 ppg) and Meridee Scott (10.1 ppg).
Nelson is coming off her worst game of the year, going 0-7 with three points at UCM.
Marnin and sophomore Annie Mathews (9.5 ppg) have gone a combined 20-27 from the field over the last two games. Both are shooting better than 52 percent on the year.
The 6-3 Marnin will have a height advantage inside against NSU whose tallest player is Lexie Lewis at 6-1.
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Jan. 30, 2013 @ 5:58 pm
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