By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s rugged schedule continues tonight as the Lions travel to play No. 9 Washburn at Lee Arena in Topeka, Kan.
After a four-game winning streak to start the new year, the Lions have lost their last four games — the first two close and the last two by double digits. Tonight the Lions will play their fourth 2012 NCAA Tournament team in the last five games.
“The bottom line is we need to focus on playing a very good 40 minutes of basketball,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “We’re still a very good basketball team, but as the schedule got tougher, we didn’t.”
The Lions (10-7, 4-5 MIAA), averaging 65.1 points per game, have scored 42 and 45 points in their last two starts. But with the offensive struggles, Mitts’ main concern is defense.
“If our defense would turn the corner, I think we would become a much more confident basketball team,” she said. “I’m mainly talking about our mentality. We don’t have a tough enough mentality that we’re going to get defensive stops. When that determination clicks, I think a lot of things will snowball in a positive direction.”
And that includes the offense.
“We’ve always been a program that our defense turns into offense,” Mitts said.
The Lions spent Monday watching film of last Saturday’s 69-45 loss to Northeastern State.
“I wanted them to see what everyone else saw,” Mitts said. “I think there were some good ‘aha’ moments for the team.
“Watching film, it’s not like we’re not open or we’re forcing shots. Our offense is working. Our 3-point shots were open by a good five feet. It’s a matter of people hitting 3’s and layups and free throws.”
Washburn (13-3, 7-1) is playing only its third home game this month. The Lady Blues won five of their last six road games, losing 52-43 at Northeastern State.
Senior guard Laura Kinderknecht leads Washburn at 15.7 points per game and has been the Lady Blues’ leading scorer in all but five games. Senior forward Tiara Gorge adds 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds off the bench. She also is second in the MIAA in field goal shooting at 60.8 percent, trailing teammate Lavonda McCall’s 61 percent.
“Washburn is a very disciplined basketball team,” Mitts said. “They are going to run a lot of on-the-ball screens. Our post players have to do a good job of guarding and communicating with our guards.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They have a great transition game, they execute in the halfcourt offense, and they are one of the best defensive teams in the conference. They are hard to score against.”
Good news for the Lions, junior guard Shatara Stone is available to play after missing most of the last game.
Stone, who wears braces on both knees, fell to the floor attempting to make a defensive shift against Northeastern State. She participated in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s workouts, Mitts said.