When B.J. Smith took over Southeast Missouri State University's women's basketball program this season, he promised an up-tempo, pressure-packed style on both ends of the court.
While the Otahkians' offense is still not clicking quite to Smith's wishes, the defense has clearly picked up the pace in recent games.
Southeast has forced 64 turnovers in its last two outings, including 30 during an 89-48 rout of future Ohio Valley Conference foe Samford in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 7. Lipscomb committed 34 turnovers during a 71-50 loss in Cape Girardeau on Dec. 5.
The Otahkians (4-2) will look for more stout defense and their fourth straight win tonight when Division II Oakland City visits the Show Me Center for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
"Our defense is really coming around. That's the biggest difference in our play the last few games," Smith said. "When we're playing the way we want to play, our defense creates tempo and creates a lot of our offense."
Smith, whose team has nine new players, said all along that it would take some time for the Otahkians to mesh together, and their progress has been hampered by a variety of injuries. But Smith can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"We've made big strides the last two weeks," he said. "You hate to get too optimistic because we're still a long ways away, but we're starting to look more like the basketball team we want to be."
A big part of that, said Smith, has been the improved health of the Otahkians' two point guards, Sarah Costello and Tiffanne Ryan. They both have missed considerable practice time with various ailments.
"It really hurt having them miss time," Smith said. "As Sarah has gotten more practice time, that's really helped us. She's so athletic and can do so many things."
Costello, last week's OVC Newcomer of the Week, had 26 points, 14 assists and 12 steals in the Otahkians' two most recent wins. In addition to averaging 9.7 points per game, she is second in the OVC in steals (3.5) and third in assists (4.17).
Southeast's leading scorer, Yashika Sidbury (14.3 ppg), has played despite being bothered by sore knees and a hip problem.
Miah Shelford, one of the Otahkians' post players, has appeared in just one game because of back and shoulder injuries but should be ready to go tonight.
Tanya Guell, another post player, has been out all season with a stress fracture. Smith said Guell will begin practicing soon.
Louise McGoldrick, another inside player, has been out all season after having surgery and is likely to redshirt.
"We're getting healthier," Smith said. "Right now, we're probably as healthy as we've been."
In addition to Sidbury, other double-figure scorers for the Otahkians are Lori Chase (12.5 ppg), Carina Souza (12.2 ppg) and Kenja White (11.7 ppg).
While Oakland City, located in Oakland City, Ind., doesn't figure to present the Otahkians much of a challenge, Smith said, "You can't take anybody for granted, but if we do what we're capable of doing, we should win."