BY MAKENNA ALLEN
Bouncing back from their first conference loss last week, the Tiger women’s basketball team maintained their first place MIAA ranking as they soundly defeated the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats 91-63 on Saturday. The Tigers extended their home-game winning streak that spans the course of 19 games in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
This as not the Tigers’ first victory over the Bearcats. In fact, the team is 13-10 in the all-time series against the Bearcats and has won nine of the last ten games against NMSU.
Despite what the score might suggest, the first half of the game presented a challenge for the Tigers. Though the team was efficient offensively throughout the first quarter, the Bearcats consistently trailed close behind thanks to their strength from three-point range.
“I don’t think we understood quite how well they shot it. We can prepare for that and we can warn them and do the scouting for it but we just gave them a little bit too much space in the first half,” Head Coach Tony Hobson said. “They penetrate well enough that we hopped off a little too far and they would kick it and have enough space to get a three off.”
This strong Bearcat offense allowed the team to cling to the Tigers as they even took the lead for a portion of the first quarter. However, the Tigers succeeded in pulling away just before the end of the period, 28-23.
Hobson credits a portion of this offensive success with junior forward Lanie Page who remained hot throughout the game. However, he also feels that overall, the game was one of the team’s best offensively.
“That was about as good an execution as we’ve had for some time,” Hobson said. “We were getting just about what we wanted every time.”
This momentum continued into the second half of the game and became increasingly more noticeable as a result of changes made defensively.
As the team surged into the second half, they blocked out any Bearcat points until just under three minutes remained in the third quarter. Where the Tigers had led by just nine points entering halftime, the team quickly demolished the Bearcats with their defense during the second half of play.
This shift in defense was the result of Hobson’s halftime message that was “all defense.”
“Defensively, we just needed to have a little more pride in stopping your man,” Hobson said. “It takes half a step. Half a step is the difference between them making a three and not even taking the shot.”
Hobson also suggested that Page’s strong game contributed to the monsoon of points rained upon the Bearcats.
“She’s a weapon. It’s like you having a tank and everybody else having smaller artillery sometimes, unless the tank’s broken down. If she’s playing her best like today, she’s hard to stop just because she can pull up out of transition,” Hobson said. “It puts us in another gear because it takes the pressure off of everybody else and then all of the sudden, everybody else is getting easier shots, especially inside.”
Both Page and Hobson agreed that electric atmosphere from a large crowd decked in pink for breast cancer awareness drove the team towards success.
“It was really fun. I was smiling, yelling, having a lot of fun,” Page said. “The crowd loved it too. I think the crowd helped us get in that roll and get us going.”
The crowd of students was one of the largest that the women’s team has seen this season.
“When you come in here on a Saturday afternoon with lots of other things to do and see the crowd we have, not at halftime, not at the end of the game, at the beginning of our game, it’s the best crowd we’ve had all year. They get into it and our kids really appreciate that,” Hobson said.
Hobson hopes that this momentum will carry the team through the rest of the season as the Tigers climb the rankings both within the conference and nationally.
“Our frame of mind is good. We have a good long-term outlook. This team has aspirations in mind,” Hobson said. “I think when you have that, it’s easier to make it through the dog days.”
The “dog days” continue next Sat., Feb. 2 as the Tigers travel to Kearney to take on the 4-5 Nebraska-Kearney Lopers.