By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It’s been a week and a day since Missouri Southern’s women’s basketball team posted a 72-58 victory over Newman University.
“We’ve added a few new things in the last week,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “We really concentrated on our defense and rebounding. As any coach will say, defense and rebounding are what takes you through the grind of the MIAA.”
With conference play still two weeks away, the Lions face two NAIA teams this weekend in their annual Pizza Hut/Fairfield Inn Thanksgiving Classic.
Tonight’s session pairs No. 3-ranked Pittsburg State (2-0) vs. Evangel (1-4) at 5 and Missouri Southern (3-1) vs. Avila (1-5) at 7. On Saturday afternoon it’s PSU vs. Avila at 1 and MSSU vs. Evangel at 3.
Evangel and Avila picked up their victories earlier this week.
Avila’s Eagles defeated Ottawa 60-51 behind 18 points and 11 rebounds from senior forward Cassie Brunner. Courtney Gimlin, senior guard from Ozark, leads the Eagles at 12.2 points per game.
Evangel beat John Brown 59-56 as senior forward Sierra McSpadden tallied 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. McSpadden, a transfer from Crowder College, averages 18.2 points and 9.0 rebounds.
The Lions’ balanced offensive attack has averaged 74 points per game, 13 more than their opponents.
Jolee Sharp, junior guard from Fort Scott, popped in 17 points against Newman to hike her team-leading average to 10.0 points. Guard Nicole Hartzog and centers Dominique Mosley and Shonte Clay all average 9 points, and Shatara Stone and Erin Rice add 7 points apiece.
While the stretch of four games in six days gave the Lions much-needed game experience, the coaching staff welcomed the practice time.
“I didn’t realize how many games we played until we were able to string five practices together,” Mitts said. “What’s important we don’t have to go as long, and what you can do is build on each practice. The intensity of our practices has been good. We’ve been able to build on each one and not be in such a rush to prepare for our next opponent.”
With her team on a three-game winning streak, Mitts will be looking for team and individual improvements.
“We want to play 40 minutes of good basketball,” she said. “Against Newman we put 30 good minutes together (erasing a 10-point deficit midway through the first half). We have to make putting 40 good minutes together a habit before conference play starts.
“I’m hoping our offensive execution continues to be what it’s been. Although we’ve shot the ball well, our offensive rebound numbers need to improve tremendously.
“I’m also looking for better play out of certain individuals. I’m looking for people to take that next step in our program to help us go from where we are to maybe the next level.”
Pittsburg State has been idle for two weeks since beating Southwest Minnesota State 97-51 and Mary (N.D.) 80-60 in the Gorillas’ Tipoff Classic.
Lizzy Jeronimus, last year’s MIAA freshman of the year, leads the Gorillas at 19.0 points per game. Morgan Westhoff averages 11.5 coming off the bench, and Lauren Brown is at 11.0.
Sophomore Hailey Roderique leads a balanced rebounding effort at 5.5 per game.