Indians look for a run heading into OVC games

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University has four games left before starting its Ohio Valley Conference season.

All four opponents appear tough to beat, but some less daunting than others -- especially tonight's contest at winless Missouri-Kansas City.

Not that Southeast coach Gary Garner thinks his team will have an easy time in the 7 p.m. tipoff at Municipal Auditorium. But Garner says the Kangaroos (0-5) are an opponent the Indians (3-4) should be able to defeat.

"It's a game we can win, and it's the game we probably have the best shot of the next four to win," Garner said. "But it's still going to be tough."

Following tonight's game, the Indians play at Arkansas-Little Rock Tuesday, host Southwest Missouri Dec. 21 and play at Creighton Dec. 29.

Arkansas-Little Rock returns most of the team that went 18-11 last year, and the Trojans recently lost by two points in overtime to nationally ranked Minnesota; Southwest Missouri owns a victory at St. Louis; and undefeated Creighton is ranked 23rd nationally after winning an NCAA Tournament game last season.

"We've got some really difficult games coming up," Garner said.

Those upcoming contests are part of what Garner says is Southeast's toughest non-conference schedule since he took over the program six years ago.

The Indians have played undefeated Southern Illinois, which reached last season's NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Southeast has also faced solid squads from Tulane, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Arkansas State and Indiana State, and still has two games left with Western Illinois.

"It's by far the toughest non-conference schedule since I've been here. It hasn't even been close," Garner said. "Our non-conference schedule is a lot tougher than it looks, because there are no marquee names. But Southern Illinois, Creighton, Arkansas-Little Rock, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, those are very good teams, they just don't have the names.

"I've said all along I'm worried about our confidence. We've got three of our next four games on the road and we play very good basketball teams."

The Indians' confidence appears strong despite last year's 6-22 record and a 3-4 start to this season that was not unexpected, considering some of the teams Southeast has played.

"I think we've got a lot of confidence," sophomore guard Derek Winans said. "We know we've played some really good teams so far, and we're going to play some really good teams the next few weeks, but we think we can beat them."

To beat UMKC tonight, the Indians will probably have to keep tabs on Michael Watson.

Watson, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, averages a nation-leading 31.4 points per game. He has taken more than twice as many shots as any of his teammates and is hitting 45 percent from 3-point range.

Watson, the Mid-Continent Conference preseason player of the year, averaged a league-best 21.9 points last year on a team that went 18-11 for the second-best season in the program's history, but he is the Kangaroos' lone returning starter.

"He is really good offensively," Garner said. "You have to hope he's not shooting great. He's going to put a lot of shots up. You hope to make the shots as tough as you can."

The only other UMKC player averaging in double figures is 6-8 junior forward James Williams (12.6 ppg). The Kangaroos' top rebounder is 6-9, 300-pound center Carlton Aaron, a Temple transfer who grabs nine boards per contest.

While the Kangaroos are winless, they have suffered several narrow defeats, including a 62-59 home loss to Colorado. UMKC has also lost games by one point and six points.

"They've been really close and I'm sure they're looking at this as a game they have a good chance to win at home," Garner said. "We'll have to play well."

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