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NIU women's basketball adds height, depth to roster

Kyle Bursaw —
Natecia Augusta (right) makes a move as teammate Shaakira Haywood defends during practice in the Convocation Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.
Kyle Bursaw — Natecia Augusta (right) makes a move as teammate Shaakira Haywood defends during practice in the Convocation Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.

Looking at last season's rebounding numbers, it would be hard to tell Northern Illinois was typically out-sized every time out on the court.

Despite featuring only two 6-footers, the NIU women's basketball team out-rebounded opponents in 20 of 31 contests during the 2011-12 season. They did it on both ends of the floor, averaging more offensive and defensive rebounds than their opponents.

"We were good because we knew that was a weakness," NIU coach Kathi Bennett said. "[5-foot-10 forward Kim Davis] was a great rebounder, she led us in rebounding so we have to replace that."

Trying to fill the void will be an influx of newcomers who give NIU and Bennett something the team hasn't had a lot of during her first two years in DeKalb: height.

Jada Buggs, a sophomore transfer from Wisconsin, is eligible to play after sitting out last season, and freshmen McKenzie Hoelmenn and Nichole Wittman are part of the latest Bennett recruiting class. All three stand at least 6-0.

"We’re playing bigger teams, teams that are in the Big Ten, bigger conferences and they are always going to be a lot bigger than us," senior forward Shaakira Haywood said. "But I think it helps us a lot because we have more depth along the line on the bench and on the court, we can hold our ground against them."

That first test will come today on the road against Iowa. But Bennett expects there to be some growing pains early on.

NIU's defensive schemes require its bigs to be active, something Bennett said Davis was great at.

"Everybody runs ball-screen action, and you've got to get your posts out there," Bennett said. "You can’t lay back in zone or be even, you have to be sprinting out with them, and that’s a hard adjustment from high school to college."

Offensively, NIU will have to replace Claire Jakubicek, who led the Huskies with 11 points a game, but transferred to Indiana in the spring.

Bennett raved about Hoelmenn's willingness to be physical inside and her feel for the game as a freshman and also noted many players who could step away from the basket and be a threat beyond the arc, something the Huskies have been lacking in the previous two seasons.

"[Buggs] can definitely step out and shoot the 3," Bennett said. "Jenna [Thorp] has worked hard on her shot. Nichole Wittman can step out and shoot the 3, and so can [Natecia Augusta], so that gives us where they have to guard us on the perimeter and that will be nice."

Bennett said she is trying to keep things simple, not wanting to overwhelm a younger team with too much too soon. But she expects the added depth and height to be an advantage later on.

"They’re going to get better because they are always doing extra, very motivated," Bennett said. "They are really trying to get better, so I think over the long haul we will have that depth and strength inside."

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