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As Northwestern State heads back out on the road for another pair of Southland Conference games, they have one thing on their mind – rebounding.
Not just rebounding the basketball, which has been an even bigger topic of discussion over the past few weeks, but rebounding from a pair of frustration-filled home losses a week ago.
Fortunately for the Lady Demons (9-6, 2-3), the road has been fairly kind to them this season with five of their nine wins coming away from Prather Coliseum, the most road wins of any team in the conference, men or women.
They take a two-game road winning streak with them into Houston on Thursday for a matchup with HBU (8-8, 4-1) set for a 5 p.m. start. The game can be heard locally in the Natchitoches area on 95.9 FM Kix Country.
Since the start of conference play NSU has only outrebounded one opponent in five games, a 36-35 advantage in the dominant scoring win at New Orleans. On the season NSU has won the rebounding battle three times against Division I opponents, seven overall, but have picked up a pair of road win despite a minus-seven or greater rebounding disparity.
One of the first lines on both ends of the floor in the rebounding battle is 6-foot-3 post Jasmin Dixon, who splits minutes evenly with starter Jordan Todd. While Dixon joked that it was “easier for her to out jump people” due to her height, it was still important for everyone to “find a body” when the ball is in the air.
“The biggest emphasis has been getting a body,” Dixon said. “We all like to turn our heads, find the ball and jump for it but that’s not always going to work out for us, especially when we’re going up against bigger girls.”
It has been the ability to score the basketball that has been the saving grace for the Lady Demons in their two wins against Division I opponents where they haven’t controlled the rebounding battle, something that took a dip this past week against UIW and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“We had been able to score on the other end so that made it not as big of a black eye,” head coach Anna Nimz said. “When you’re not scoring you have to go rebound. Every loss has had some rebounding issues, and that’s not to say we haven’t had rebounding issues in the games we’ve won either, it’s just that our outside shots may have been falling or our percentages were higher or whatever the case.”
The magic number for the Lady Demons appears to be 40. Not just looking for 40 minutes of solid play in each game, but 40 percent shooting for the game. In their five wins against DI opponents, NSU has shot over 40 percent from the field in all but one game, that being a 39 percent effort at Nicholls. In their seven loses all but one has been below 35 percent. The Lady Demons shot exactly 40 percent in the loss to TAMUCC, recovering from a 3-for-13 start to the game, but the minus-13 rebounding margin and the point deficit were too much to fully overcome.
“I think we forced some shots late in the game against UIW, but collectively I think we’ve moved the ball well, made the extra pass and played selflessly,” Nimz said. “That’s what you want to see as a coach. They created a wide-open shot and the ball’s just not going in. I think they were good shots, the girls worked hard for them, they deserve for a lot of them to go in, but they just haven’t been falling in Prather.”
The Lady Demons play their next game in Prather on Feb. 10 against the same HBU team they will see on Thursday night at Sharp Gym in Houston, just on the other side of town from where Dixon spent her high school days.
“I’m excited about it,” Dixon said about playing back in Houston again. “I haven’t had the chance to get many people here (Natchitoches) because it’s so far away from home so just extremely excited to go home and play.”
The Huskies have won four of their last five games, with their only loss coming at TAMUCC, and have the best 3-point shooting defense with a league-leading 3.94 blocked shots per game as well.
NSU will reach the halfway point of the conference schedule this weekend, and with each passing game the Lady Demons continue to refine the spots of development that just come with time and playing together within a system.
“We have to have a better feel for the game,” Nimz said. “A lot of time we live and die by the quick shot. We have some kids that can really create and do some incredibly athletic things.
“Where some people might see those as rushed shots, they have the skill sets to take them, but it’s more so about reading the game. It’s not the shot we need right now. That’s another area of growth and that just comes with time.”
Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services