Lady Demons open SLC home slate by hosting McNeese

NSU 32 RaVon NeroRegardless of a team’s record, the Northwestern State women’s basketball team knows better than to overlook anyone.

As the Lady Demons prepare to host McNeese in their home Southland Conference opener at 1 p.m. Saturday, they will have the opportunity to put that mentality into practice.

Northwestern State (5-7, 0-1) welcomes a group of Cowgirls (2-10, 0-1) who have yet to win a road game this season and have yet to defeat a Division I opponent.

“You can throw records out, what’s happened in the past, when it comes to conference games,” third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “Records mean nothing. It’s all about preparation and who’s ready to play that day. I know (McNeese coach) Kacie (Cryer) will have her team ready to play Saturday.”

Saturday’s game can be heard through the Demon Sports Network. Steaming video and audio are available at http://www.NSUDemons.com/watch or through the new Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded through either the Apple Store or Google Play. Tony Taglavore, in his 11th season, will have the play-by-play call of the game.

Both teams dropped their Southland Conference openers on Wednesday with the Lady Demons falling 97-86 at Nicholls and McNeese dropping a 68-66 decision to Incarnate Word. Those results only add to the importance of NSU’s first home game since Dec. 21.

“We talked about it on the bus (on the trip home from Texas) that your goal, especially in conference, should be to defend every home-court game and hopefully go .500 on the road,” Dupuy said. “You do that and you’ll finish top four in your league.”

The Lady Demons’ success this season has been predicated on a defense that continues to lead the country in forcing turnovers. NSU’s opponents commit an average of 26.8 turnovers per game.

Northwestern State has been particularly successful forcing turnovers within the confines of Prather Coliseum. NSU has forced all six of its home opponents into at least 21 turnovers and has averaged forcing an average of 32.7 turnovers while going 5-1 at home.

“You want opponents to come in and say, ‘That’s a hard-nosed, tough-minded team, and it’s a tough place to play,’” Dupuy said. “We are trying to get better in the half-court on both sides, but we’re at our best when we create chaos, change up defenses. We try to keep teams off balance and play 11 or 12 players to keep them out of their scheme. We want to make them uncomfortable. When they are comfortable, they execute better.”

Despite losing at Nicholls, the Lady Demons executed better offensively, shooting 50.8 percent against the Colonels, a season high against a Division I opponent. In its past two games – at Texas and at Nicholls – the Lady Demons have hit 50.3 percent of their shots.

Much of that offense came off the Lady Demons’ defense, which ranks third nationally in steals per game (13.9).

That strength takes aim at a Cowgirls’ squad that averages 23.6 turnovers per game. However, McNeese has an equally strong advantage it will try to exploit.

The Cowgirls lead the Southland Conference in rebounds per game (45.1) and rank 23rd nationally in offensive rebounds per game (16).

In its season sweep of Northwestern State in 2017-18, the Cowgirls outrebounded the Lady Demons by an average of 14.5 per game. In winning the past four matchups between the teams, McNeese has averaged 11.3 more rebounds per game than Northwestern State.

“They’re a tough, physical team on the glass,” Dupuy said. “That’s always been their identity. This is a rivalry game, and what they did to us last year should fuel the fire. Our preparation will be the same. As a coach, you get your players to focus one day at a time.

“You get lost in the process, and you’ll get the results you want.”