By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Erin Rice, who averaged 13.1 and 14.9 points per game during the last two seasons, has been coming off the bench during Missouri Southern’s early season games.
“I do kind of enjoy coming off the bench because I can see what needs to be worked on,” Rice said. “While I’m on the bench, listening to Coach (Ronda) Hubbard telling me what she sees ... then I can go make a difference when I get in.
“If it’s going to help the team by me coming off the bench, then let me come off the bench for the rest of the year. It doesn’t bother me.”
Rice will be coming off the bench again today when the Lions (5-1) entertain Drury (4-1) in their final nonleague game before MIAA play begins next week. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Panthers, an NCAA Tournament team the last 10 years, are coming off a 65-57 home victory over Northeastern State. They also beat Southwest Baptist 60-55 and lost at Washburn 67-50.
Junior guard Bethany Funderburk averages 15 points per game for Drury, one more than senior guard Katie Fritchard. Sophomore center Emilie Gray adds 10.8 points.
Shelby White, 5-foot-9 sophomore guard from Purdy, has started three games this year and averages 4.5 points.
“We have a high quality basketball team coming to town,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They shoot the ball extremely well, and they keep you out of rhythm by the defenses they run. They run a pretty intricate system.”
Rice’s production is down so far this season — 7.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game — and foul trouble has reduced her minutes in some games. But the Lions have displayed a balanced scoring attack during a five-game winning streak.
“As a senior and an all-MIAA performer, we were expecting a lot more consistency from Erin,” Mitts said. “It was a matter of some other players producing more than her in the early going.
“It’s worked out well. I think Erin is gradually starting to play more consistently, starting to produce more for us. Her fouling situation has steadily improved. It’s something we have to rectify by the time conference starts.”
Rice scored 12 points in the Lions’ 66-58 victory over Evangel one week ago. She had five points on consecutive trips in the first half on a 3-pointer from the corner and a fast-break layup off a pass from Kori Dodson. Rice later made a jumper in the lane and an assist to Clay in the last two minutes.
“I’m really excited about this team,” Rice said. “I see a lot of potential. I think we’re coming together. We share the ball really well.
“It’s been a slow process, but I think the last couple of games we’ve begun to figure out who everybody is and how they can contribute to the game. I know I can look for Shonte (Clay) down low and she’ll be working (hard) to get a post up. There is going to be Johnna (tenBerge) and Jolee (Sharp) and Sharese (Jones) and sometimes Kori (Dodson) setting up on the outside for the 3 when we penetrate inside.”
Clay, 6-2 junior center, leads the Lions at 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. Dominique Mosley, 6-1 center, and Sharp, 5-9 guard, combine for 18 points, and four more players average at least six points.
The Lions lead the series 2-0, winning 79-78 in Springfield in 2000 and 75-65 in Joplin on Dec. 29, 2001.