Southeast women host OVC-leading EIU tonight
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Tarina Nixon said the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team treats every game as its biggest of the season at that time.
But the Redhawks' senior point guard acknowledged that today's contest looms particularly large.
The Redhawks begin a three-game homestand against Eastern Illinois.
Not only are the preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Panthers (10-5, 4-0) currently in first place, they beat Southeast in the semifinals of last year's OVC tournament to deny the Redhawks a potential NCAA tournament berth.
"We treat every game like it's our biggest game," Nixon said. "But this one is pretty big."
No doubt about it, said coach John Ishee, whose Redhawks (6-8, 2-2) don't want to fall any further behind the Panthers in the OVC race.
"They could distance themselves from us with a win on our home floor," Ishee said. "We don't want that to happen. It's a very big game."
Southeast will try to stretch its winning streak to three, after the Redhawks had lost eight of nine.
That won't be easy against a resurgent EIU program that for years ranked among the OVC's worst before finally breaking through last season.
The Panthers never finished higher than fifth in their first 11 seasons in the OVC after joining the conference in 1996-97.
EIU had only one winning OVC record during that time, and the Panthers never compiled an overall winning mark.
But the Panthers steadily were improving under coach Brady Sallee, and finally broke through last season, Sallee's fourth at the school.
EIU went 19-13 for its most wins since 1987-88, tied for second in the conference at 15-5 to set a school record for OVC wins and reached the OVC tournament title game for the first time.
"Coach Sallee and his staff have done a great job," Ishee said.
With all five starters returning -- led by first-team all-OVC forward Rachel Galligan -- expectations were high for the Panthers this season. EIU so far has lived up to them.
Galligan returns as the OVC's premier inside player after leading the conference last season by averaging 18.5 points per game and ranking second in field-goal shooting at 54.7 percent.
The 6-foot-2 Galligan again tops the Panthers in scoring and is fourth in the conference with a 16.4 average. She leads the league in field-goal percentage at 54.8, and as a team the Panthers are first at 45.3.
"She's arguably the best player in the league," Ishee said.
EIU is shooting a league-best 38.4 percent from 3-point range, with four players ranking in the top 10. The Panthers also lead the OVC in rebounding margin at plus 7.5.
"They've got great inside-outside balance. They really stretch you," Ishee said. "They're a very experienced team. We'll have our hands full with them."
EIU also figures to have its hands full with the Redhawks now that they appear to be back on track.
Southeast is coming off an impressive road trip, beating Tennessee Tech 56-41 and Jacksonville State 82-60.
For the first time since Nov. 28 -- a span of seven games -- the Redhawks had standout seniors Nixon and Sonya Daugherty in the starting lineup at the same time after they had battled injuries.
Nixon scored a career-high 25 points Monday at Jacksonville State.
"Just getting Tarina and Sonya back together in the starting lineup ... no question we're playing better basketball," Ishee said. "I look for us to continue to do that."
Southeast has won 15 straight OVC road games dating back to the 2006-07 season, which is tied for the nation's second-longest active conference road winning streak.
The Redhawks have not been as good in OVC home games recently, dropping five of their last 12, including both of this year's conference contests at the Show Me Center. Daugherty missed both games.
"That road streak speaks volumes of our hard work, but now we'd like to start doing that at home," Ishee said.
Southeast gets its chance to start a home streak against the first-place Panthers, who have lost six straight at the Show Me Center.
"It should be a fun matchup," Ishee said. "We're looking forward to the challenge."