DeKALB – Kathi Bennett said her team has been playing good basketball.
The third-year Northern Illinois women’s basketball coach calls her Huskies a team that has been playing extremely hard.
However, using a rotation of only seven players, Bennett said she thinks her group just runs out of gas as the second half starts to wind down.
NIU, which finished the regular season at 7-22 and 2-14 in the Mid-American Conference, begins MAC tournament play as the 10th seed, and will play at seventh-seeded Buffalo (10-19, 8-8 MAC) at 1 p.m. today. With a win, the Huskies would move on to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where they would play the winner of 11th-seeded Ohio and sixth-seeded Miami (Ohio).
Bennett is hoping her team can play a complete 40 minutes as the postseason starts.
“The last three games we’ve played extremely well. We’re rotating seven kids and I feel we run out of gas. We’re in every game till that six-, seven-minute mark. Trying to figure out how we can finish strong,” she said. “And we’re knocking. I think tournament time, maybe you get that little extra boost of energy or you know the end is near so it gives you a little bit more energy that you can finish some games out. I honestly can’t ask this team to play any harder.”
What’s gotten to the Huskies this year is the injury bug. With Jada Buggs, Danny Pulliam and Satavia Taylor missing time. NIU won’t have their help in the tournament. Nicole Whitman also had to leave the team because an illness in her family.
The lack of depth is putting more pressure on players such as sophomores Amanda Corral and Jenna Thorp.
Bennett said Corral has been playing 40 minutes a game and Thorp 38 minutes a contest, while junior Ashley Sneed has been averaging 39 minutes recently.
With Pulliam out of the lineup, Corral has been the team’s main point guard, and is the Huskies’ leading scorer with 12.9 points a game. Corral didn’t have point guard experience coming into college, but said she’s comfortable with the position now.
“I think overall it’s made me a better player. At the beginning of last year I couldn’t even really handle the ball, I wasn’t really strong with it,” she said. “I think this year it’s given me a lot more confidence. It’ll help me improve my game for next year.”
With all the adversity NIU has fought through this season, the players certainly have had to adjust. Thorp has even played some point guard. She said the tough season has made her adapt.
“[Bennett] was saying the other day before the game, we have our ups and downs but we’ve made our own breakthrough,” she said. “I think it kind of made us a more versatile team. People had to step up and know their roles a little bit better.”