The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 7, 2014

Lions draw national poll attention

Missouri Southern’s 76-71 victory over Fort Hays State last Saturday earned the Lions some national attention.

For the first time this season the Lions received votes (14) in the USA Today/WBCA Division II women’s basketball poll, which was released Tuesday. Only three other MIAA teams are in the ranking — Emporia State at No. 3, Central Missouri at No. 6 and Fort Hays State received votes.

The Lions journey into Oklahoma twice this week for contests against Central Oklahoma tonight in Edmond and Saturday afternoon against Northeastern State in Tahlequah.

The Lions (9-2, 3-1 MIAA) are the only one-loss team in the conference race, trailing Emporia State and Central Missouri (both 5-0) and Pittsburg State (3-0).

Central Oklahoma (7-5, 2-3) is coming off a 78-72 loss at Northwest Missouri State on Saturday afternoon. UCO pulled within 69-68 with 1:21 remaining but had a turnover and missed shot on its next two possessions while the Bearcats converted free throws in the final minute to pull away.

Jill Bryan poured in a career-high 28 points — almost doubling her 15.0 season average — to lead the Bronchos, who are averaging 72 points per game, three fewer than the Lions.

Balanced scoring has been on key to the Lions’ success this season. Sophomore Sharese Jones scored 18 points against Fort Hays State to lead five players in double figures. The Lions had four double-figure scorers in three of the previous five games.

The Lions consistently drove the ball to the basket against the Tigers, resulting in season highs for free throws made (32) and attempted (43).

“If I was driving in, I could draw somebody to me and dump it off to get an easier bucket,” Jones said. “We emphasized attacking the basket for kickouts or easy layups.”

“The first half we were trying to shoot fadeaway jumpers over them,” Lions coach Ronda Hubbard said. “We weren’t getting the call because there was distance between us and (6-foot-4 Kate Lehman). I told our kids at halftime if you don’t get to the bucket and put your shoulder down and go into her, they are never going to call a foul on her. They took that to heart and started taking it to her.”

The Lion defense, although allowing more than 70 points for the second straight game, forced many of the Tigers’ 20 turnovers — eight more than FHSU’s season average.

“We’re capable of being a very good defensive team,” Hubbard said. “I don’t think that we’re quite at the level of the defensive presence that we’re used to having. That does excite me because I know we have a lot of room to improve and I know we have the athletes and players to get there.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet. You’d hope to be there because we’re starting conference play, but it’s also kind of exciting that we have a lot of room for improvement. And I know our team is committed to that improvement.”

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