HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – Head Coach Ron Cottrell and his Huskies are down to one last non-conference game before beginning Great West Conference play against NJIT, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, on January 19th. Meanwhile, the Huskies will host Crowley’s Ridge at Sharp Gym Thursday night at 7:05.
The Huskies are 5-10 on the season while the Pioneers are 1-13. The Huskies have lost their last three contests, 2 on the road and 1 at home. There were similarities in those games that need to be corrected. But to do that and get some momentum heading into conference play, playing well Thursday night is critical.
“This is an important game for us, last game before conference starts,” says Cottrell. We need to get some confidence back and get our guys playing on the same page. We’ve lost a little bit of confidence. I don’t know if our guys totally understand what we need to do to win ballgames right now. So, it’s a big game for us.”
CAN’T BE STATED ENOUGH
The Huskies have played 15 games this season and whether those games were won or lost, there’s one consistent message that comes through loud and clear. The little things like playing defense matter greatly when a team is looking to develop cohesiveness, especially one that has 9 new faces.
“We need to come out and play together, play hard, really concentrate on the defensive end,” says Cottrell. “We have gotten away from some of the things we wanted to do defensively in the last few ballgames and we really need to focus back on what it takes for us to win ballgames.”
Cottrell’s group has lost the last three games by a combined 95 points, the largest a 46-point loss to Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 – not an easy matchup. However, having confidence against such an opponent is what Cottrell has preached to his Huskies day-in and day-out.
“Our guys have stayed together. They kind of understand what we’re going through with our non-conference schedule. But, it all is just to prepare us for conference play starting next Thursday and we’ve got a tough stretch right there.”
“Our non-conference schedule is pretty rough,” says 6’11” senior center Joe Latas. But, that’s what you expect to get you geared up for the conference schedule. So, we took a couple of lumps but we came together as a team. So, I think we’re going to improve from that. Should help us to be prepared and win in our conference.”
CRYSTAL BALLS DO NOT EXIST
While coaches tend not to look past an opponent, they do realize how they must prepare a team for what lies ahead while focusing on the current task. That’s another reason why this contest against Crowley’s Ridge gets even bigger as the schedule moving forward becomes more difficult.
“We start on the road at NJIT and at Chicago State, two tough places. And so, we’ve got to prepare ourselves as best we can for those environments and those situations right now so we’re not caught off guard with what we’re going to face coming up real quick here and these games are trying to help us prepare.
“Albuquerque helped us a lot with that and showed us some things we need to work on. We got a lot better I think in the last few days in concentrating on blocking out and rebounding and things that help you win ballgames.”
The numbers do indicate improvement. During the last three games starting with Duquesne, the Huskies were out-rebounded 55-39. Against New Mexico, they were out-rebounded 38-34. However, against Eastern Illinois, they were out-rebounded 40-30.
There’s little question that two of the nation’s stronger teams in Duquesne and New Mexico were two of the three strongest opponents for the Huskies. But those contests were needed to help improve the team’s weaknesses, says Cottrell.
“Those games were able to focus us on what we need to get better on. Lot of times losses help you coach and help you teach more than wins do because guys will listen to you a little more after they’re coming off a loss. So those are important games for us.”
PIONEERS ARE NEXT
Fifth-year Head Coach Chris Perkins leads the Pioneers. The team from Paragould, Arkansas has one win on the season which was a 142-23 blowout of Blessed Hope College.
Latas, who’s working on his Master’s Degree in Theology, looks at this game as the final opportunity to implement what could be the game plan for conference play.
“We’re trying to bring a real up-tempo style. Tried walking it up the court and it just didn’t seem to fit us. We’re definitely trying to push and run and score. But, the thing we have to do is play defense with that. So, we have to start playing a lot better defense. Coach put our defensive stats on the board and they weren’t good at all.
“So that’s kind of been a motivation this week is getting better on the defensive end – not just scoring, but getting down and defending on the other end too.”
Some of the defensive numbers were noted earlier. Meanwhile, the Huskies boast three players with double-figure scoring averages. Junior 6’9” forward Art Bernardi heads the list with 12.5 ppg, followed by 6’0” freshman Tyler Russell, 11.5 ppg, and Marcus Davis who averages 11.2 ppg and 5.1 rpg. Joe Latas leads the way on the boards with a 5.3 rebounds per game average.
Tipoff against Crowley’s Ridge is at 7:05 Thursday night.