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NIU

Women's basketball: Huskies hosting MAC tournament 1st-round game

Kelly Smith: 'Having that success of beating them and knowing what to do gives us confidence. We need to come out and be solid and handle their pressure.'

NIU forward Kelly Smith (25) shoots the ball in the post against Western Michigan Broncos center Emma Vanzanten (52) in DeKalb Mar. 3.
NIU forward Kelly Smith (25) shoots the ball in the post against Western Michigan Broncos center Emma Vanzanten (52) in DeKalb Mar. 3.

DeKALB – Heading into the Mid-American Conference tournament next week, the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team had a hiccup Saturday, losing, 85-66, to Western Michigan in the regular-season finale. 

NIU coach Lisa Carlsen, however, remains confident the Huskies will be ready to go Monday, when they host Eastern Michigan in a MAC tournament first-round game at the Convocation Center. 

She said she expects her team (15-14, 7-11) to have short-term memory loss from Saturday’s game. 

“We’re going to have to file this [loss] away and hope we can right the ship,” Carlsen said. “We’ve been playing good basketball. It’s not like we don’t remember how to do that. We’re just going to have to get back to that.

“In 48 hours, we’re going to turn around and play one, not that they all don’t matter, but obviously you win and advance, you lose and you go home.” 

NIU and Eastern Michigan (10-19, 6-12) split its regular-season series. The Huskies lost, 83-76, at home Jan. 20, but defeated the Eagles, 84-75, on Feb. 24 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. NIU is 7-5 at home this season, while Eastern Michigan is 4-12 on the road.

“Having that success of beating them and knowing what to do gives us confidence,” NIU senior Kelly Smith said. “We need to come out and be solid and handle their pressure.” 

The Huskies know what happens if they can get hot at the right time. NIU was on the verge of reaching the NCAA tournament last season but came up short in the MAC championship game to Toledo.

NIU also is aware of how ugly things can get when it struggles. The Huskies lost seven straight games from Jan. 10 to 31 earlier this season. 

During that stretch, NIU was forced to adjust to playing without starting point guard Myia Starks, who tore her ACL right before the losing streak started. The Huskies also have been without guard Janae Poisson, who suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of the season. 

Without Starks and Poisson, the Huskies have been forced to shift positions around and play without a traditional point guard. 

NIU’s offense has been inconsistent at times, due to the changes. Entering Saturday’s game, the Huskies put up an efficient 173 combined points in their past two games – both wins – but struggled during their loss to Western Michigan, scoring only 66. 

Carlsen said NIU’s success in the MAC tournament will be based on how it responds to its opponents’ defense. 

“[Western Michigan] took us out of things,” she said. “My frustration was we didn’t handle their pressure well. For the most part as of late, we’ve handled that. We didn’t today. … We took a step backwards in that area today. 

“What has to happen is we have to have short-term memory on this.”

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