PITTSBURG — It’s been a tale of two different teams so far for the Pittsburg State University men’s and women’s basketball teams, as the men limp into conference play with one win and the women are sporting an undefeated record.
While the men struggled through the non-conference tournaments, the women come into Thursday’s game against Nebraska-Kearney as the heavy favorites, and with high expectations to keep the winning streak alive.
“The experience in Puerto Rico was an amazing opportunity for our players and coaches,” PSU head coach Lane Lord said. “Having a chance to experience another culture was a once in a lifetime event. The arena we played in was covered, but it was an open-air arena. It took us a game to get used to playing with the humidity and open air setting, but we started to settle in and played much better offensively.”
The Gorilla women dominated their opponents in many ways in Puerto Rico, but the biggest advantage they had was a stifling defense.
“Defensively, we were outstanding all three games,” Lord said. “I believe our defense allowed us to pick up the three victories in Puerto Rico. We won by an average of 33 points per game in the three we played there. We only gave up 118 points in three games, which averages out to 39.3 points per game.”
The momentum only continues to grow for Pitt State with each win they add to the streak.
“It was very important for us to be undefeated heading into conference play,” Lord said. “We used the seven non-conference games to develop our younger players in the process. I believe we accomplished this goal in the non-conference portion of our schedule.”
However, with the Lopers coming into town on Thursday, starting at 5:30 p.m., PSU can’t afford to get comfortable.
“Kearney has some proven players in our league that have some experience,” Lord said. “We know they will play extremely hard in John Lance Arena. We have had some great games the past few seasons with Kearney. They are a very talented team that will play half-court, man defense. Offensively, they will look to set a lot of ball screens in their motion offense.”
Following the matchup with Kearney, the Gorillas will take on Fort Hays at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, which will likely be another good battle.
“Hays lost four solid seniors off a really talented team a year ago, but they haven’t missed a beat,” Lord said. “They are playing exciting basketball early in the season and they too are one of the four, unbeaten teams in the MIAA, so this is setting up to be a top-25 matchup early in the season.”
On the men’s side, the Gorillas will need to get things turned around quickly if they want to start the MIAA on the right foot.
“[Peurto Rico] was a good experience and we learned some things about ourselves,” PSU men's’ head coach Kevin Muff said. “We came out each game and actually played well, doing some good things early. We had a lead in all three games, some of them significant, but just weren’t able to maintain them.”
If Pitt State is to get back to winning, the defense will eventually have to lead to easy offense.
“I thought we did a good job on the defensive end,” Muff said. “We’re beginning to get more comfortable in our defensive principles. We held some good scoring teams well below their average, and thought we did a nice job of rotating, helping and creating turnovers with our pressure.”
PSU will take on a familiar foe in the Lopers, with with tip off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“They have a similar team this team as the one they had last season,” Muff said. “They’re a really good shooting team, and they’ll hurt you from the perimeter. They move the ball extremely well and they isolate on mismatches. This year they’re new, kind of like us, but they have a lot of experience back too. They’re a well-seasoned team, and they’ll give us everything we can handle, but at the same time, I feel very confident in our ability to defend them.”
After Nebraska-Kearney, the Gorillas will be back at it again at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against Fort Hays.
“Defensively, they’ve played man-to-man this year, so I think we can exploit some mismatches,” Muff said. “We haven’t been a bad offensive team, but we haven’t shot the ball extremely well. Getting comfortable with our offense and knowing where we want our shots to come from has probably been our biggest issue, on top of some turnover issues and not handling the ball maybe as well as we should. I don’t have a lack of confidence in our offensive ability, but they need to play that way, and they need to have the confidence in them.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is a sports reporter of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @jbuckamneer.