It's a huge week for Missouri Southern women's basketball team.
The Lions (5-12) start the week in 12th place in the MIAA standings with a 2-7 record, one victory behind Northwest Missouri (3-6) and Northeastern State (3-8) and one ahead of Rogers State. The top 10 teams qualify for the league's postseason tournament in March in Kansas City.
The Lions have home games against Northeastern State tonight and Rogers State on Saturday afternoon, and because these are the only meetings during league play, this week's results could go a long way in determining one of the final seeds.
"These are very important games right now, especially being at home, as far as the standings," Lions coach Ronnie Ressel said. "We have talked about it. They are aware of it ... the importance of the NSU game, the Rogers State game, where we sit and who makes it to Kansas City. It shouldn't scare them. We should challenge to compete and get to Kansas City, and in order to do that, these ballgames this week are extremely important."
The Lions are coming off an 83-74 loss at Pittsburg State this past Saturday. The Lions outscored the Gorillas 27-16 in the third quarter — 10 of the Lions' best minutes this season — to take a 58-55 lead into the fourth quarter, but Tristan Gegg's outside shooting early in the fourth quarter erased the MSSU lead and late free throws produced the final nine-point margin.
"At times, our defense was better," Ressel said. "I thought we took them out of some things, and sometimes we had some breakdowns. Overall, our defense was better. We just can't foul as much as we did. We can't put a good free-throw shooting team at the line that many times, and part of that is getting out of position and using the hands. That's going to be a challenge against NSU because of their movement, and they set a ton of screens. They are moving all the time."
Northeastern State (5-13) lost 73-64 on Saturday to league-leading Central Missouri for its seventh loss in eight games in January. The RiverHawks' league wins are over Newman 66-60, Rogers State 81-60 and Lincoln 67-47.
"They are playing a lot better," Ressel said. "They played Central Missouri to a nine-point game. They beat Lincoln. They are playing extremely hard on both ends of the floor. They run a motion offense and they have a couple kids who can really score the basketball, Cenia Hayes (15.2 points) and Shae Sanchez (13.6 off the bench), two wing players. And they are shooting the a pretty good percentage from the 3. Defensively they get out and guard man-to-man, put a lot of pressure on. It's going to be a challenge. We're going to have to stay focused defensively and stay in position.
Hayes had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in the RiverHawks' 66-64 overtime victory last season.
Chasidee Owens had 12 points — including a field goal with two seconds left that forced overtime — last year against NSU and is averaging 15.8 points this season, good for sixth in the league.
The Lions rank sixth in Division II in blocked shots at 5.5 per game. Junior Zoe Campbell has half of the blocks and leads the MIAA at 2.76 per game.
Mo. Southern (5-12, 2-7 MIAA)
F Chasidee Owens, 5-10 sr. 15.8
C Zoe Campbell, 6-3 jr. 10.8
G Destiny Cozart, 5-8 sr. 14.4
G Layne Skiles, 5-10 so. 6.1
G Amber Buch, 5-7 so. 5.9
Northeastern St. (5-13, 3-8 MIAA)
F Cielo McClain, 5-10 so. 6.4
G Morgan Lee, 5-9 so. 3.8
G Cenia Hayes 5-9 jr. 15.2
G Britney Ho, 6-0 fr. 4.6
G Tree Brooks, 5-6 sr. 2.9
Tipoff: 5:30 p.m.
Site: Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Coaches: Ronnie Ressel, fourth year at MSSU (42-62). Fala Bullock, third year at NSU (20-52).
Series: NSU leads 17-15 after each team won at home last season — the Lions 63-54 and the RiverHawks 66-64 in overtime. The Lions are 12-5 at home against the RiverHawks.
Radio: WMBH (1560 AM, 101.3 FM), KXMS (88.7 FM), 5:10 p.m.