By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The Pittsburg State Gorillas basketball teams ended the 2012 portion of their seasons on high notes.
Pitt State’s men improved to 9-1 with a 67-63 win over Dixie State on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas. On the same day in Las Vegas, the Gorilla women beat Dixie State 81-58 to improve to 7-3.
“The win over Dixie State really lifted our spirits,” Pitt State women’s coach Lane Lord said on Wednesday. “It’s the best we’ve played all season.”
After a two-week hiatus, the Gorillas will try to pick up where they left off as they play tonight in a doubleheader against MIAA foe Nebraska-Kearney. The Gorilla women will tip off at 5:30 p.m. at PSU’s John Lance Arena, while the men’s game will follow at 7:30.
The Pitt State men will try to improve to 3-0 in the conference.
“I kind of wish we could have kept playing, because we were playing really well,” Pitt State men’s coach Kevin Muff said. “We open back up with a conference game, so we don’t have time for a tune up. Hopefully, our guys are ready to step up to the challenge.”
Nebraska-Kearney (3-7, 0-2 MIAA) is coming off an 86-74 win Sunday against a South Dakota Mines team that beat the Lopers 79-71 to open the season.
The Lopers are averaging 76.3 points points per game and have scored at least 83 points in their past three outings.
“It will be a pretty big defensive challenge for us,” Muff said. “They’re very efficient and very deliberate offense. We will try to get at them with some defensive pressure and make them burn a little shot clock.”
Four Nebraska-Kearney players average double digits in points. John Henderson leads the way with 16.5 points, while Mike Dentlinger (14.5), Pierre Newton (13.5) and Sami Bzai (10.1) follow.
“Dentlinger is kind of their main inside offensive threat,” Muff said. “Henderson is their best offensive player. The Newton kid is very athletic and can get to the rim. They have lots of different guys who can score. You can’t really key on one.”
But while the Lopers have scored big numbers, their defense has allowed even more. Nebraska-Kearney’s opponents are averaging 82.5 points per game and have scored at least 90 three times.
The Gorillas have been led by freshman guard Kaleb Porter, who is averaging 17.8 points per game and is shooting 49 percent from 3-point land. Courtney Ingram (11.7), A.J. Adams (10.9) and JaVon McGee (10.3) also score in double figures.
Pitt State’s women enter their third MIAA game of the season with a 1-1 conference record. Nebraska-Kearney is 4-5 overall and 1-1 in the MIAA after beating Lincoln and falling to Northwest Missouri. The Lopers are coming off a 59-55 win against South Dakota Mines on Sunday.
Junior forward Shelby Zimmerman leads the Lopers with 11.9 points per game, while averaging 5.9 rebounds.
Pitt State, which is coming off the school’s best season that ended in the Elite Eight, opened this season ranked No. 3 in the NCAA Division II rankings. The Gorillas had mixed results through the first 10 games as they coped with the loss of five key seniors and nagging injuries in the backcourt.
“We needed a break to recharge the batteries a little bit,” Lord said.
“We have to be more consistent. One night we’ll play pretty good defense, but we’ll struggle on offense. Then we’ll play well on offense and struggle a little on defense. It took us a little time to get our chemistry where it needs to be.”
The Gorillas have received several contributions from young players with sophomores Morgan Westhoff and Hailey Roderique stepping into big roles.
Sophomore Lizzy Jeronimus has taken her game to a new level, averaging 19.9 points a game while leading the team in assists. She has scored at least 20 points in her last four games.
“Lizzy has done everything we’ve asked her to do,” Lord said. “We’re asking her to take the ball up the floor. It takes a lot more wear and tear on her. She’s going to keep getting better as she goes.”
After tonight’s games, Pitt State will host Northwest Missouri at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a nationally-televised doubleheader on CBS College Sports.