The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 16, 2013

Lions expect tough challenge against Pitt State

By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor

— Two seasons ago, Missouri Southern lost its MIAA women’s basketball opener at Truman State, then won its next five league games, capped by a home victory over Pittsburg State.

This season the Lions again lost their conference opener at Truman State, but since returning from Christmas break, the Lions have posted a four-game winning streak in the league.

And, guess who’s coming to town next?

The Lions, after two road victories last week, are back at home to battle Pittsburg State tonight in a Sonic Trophy Series contest.

The Lions (10-3, 4-1 MIAA) share third place with Central Missouri in the league standings. No. 24-ranked Pittsburg State (10-4, 4-2) is tied for fifth with Missouri Western and Northeastern State.

“It’s going to be a great game for the fans and the communities,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “It’s a rivalry game obviously, and it’s two teams who are playing very, very well. More importantly, it’s two teams who are neck and neck in the conference race.”

“We’re playing really well right now,” Gorillas coach Lane Lord said. “We’ve played well since the Las Vegas trip. We’ve played our best basketball in the last month. We’re excited about the game. It’s a rivalry game, both teams are playing well. It’s a real good matchup for the fans.”

The Lions are one of the surprise teams during the first quarter of conference play.

“We seem to have taken baby steps every week since we returned from Christmas,” Mitts said. “We’re just excited to be in this position. I don’t think many people expected us to be 10-3, and to get those two road wins (78-74 at Lindenwood and 67-55 at Lincoln) last week was a big statement for our team.”

“They are hot, playing real good basketball,” Lord said. “They are finding ways to win every game. Watching on film, Maryann has them playing really hard. What’s neat to see is at the beginning of the year they were a pretty average team and they have really improved as the season goes along. It will be a tough matchup. They are playing their best right now.”

But tonight, the Lions face their toughest conference challenge to date.

“I expect their guard play to be exceptional,” Mitts said. “Lizzy Jeronimus is a handful obviously, and around here they have very good shooters. Pittsburg State is a very good basketball team who is very well coached.”

Jeronimus, 5-foot-11 sophomore, leads the conference at 19.1 points per game. And Lauren Brown, 6-foot-6 senior, is one of the league’s top rebounders at 9.1 per game. She and 6-2 freshman Kylie Gafford have blocked 25 and 19 shots, respectively, and altered numerous others.

“We want to keep Lauren and Kylie in the game defending and out of foul trouble,” Lord said. “We’re a lot better defensive team when Lauren Brown is in the game. She’s averaging 17 minutes a game ... the one game she had 32 minutes against Northwest Missouri, she had one foul (and a school-record 22 rebounds). We need her to do a good job of playing straight up and not trying to block shots but alter the game with her length.”

“Six-foot-6 poses a problem to anyone,” Mitts said. “Obviously we haven’t faced a post player like her yet, but we also haven’t faced a team where everyone on the floor is a great shooter and dribble-driver. They are very multidimensional, and you have to guard everything very well.”

The Gorillas’ Morgan Westhoff averages 9.2 points off the bench, and five more players average from 5-7 points.

Scoring balance also is key for the Lions. Forward Erin Rice and center Shonte Clay average 9.7 and 9.5, respectively, and five more players average from 5-8 points.

The Gorillas will be without sophomore guard Hailey Roderique, who suffered a knee injury in the final seconds of Saturday’s game. Roderique, who prepped at Webb City, started every game this year and averaged 6.9 points and made a team-high 19 steals.

“She does all the dirty work for us and is a big-time hustle player,” Lord said. “Losing her definitely is worse than losing the game.”