As the regular season comes to a close, the Northwestern Red Raider basketball teams face one final test Saturday night against the Cougars of Sioux Falls before the GPAC tournament starts on Feb. 24.
The women, ranked second nationally, will go for an undefeated conference season in the contest. Their opponents, the No. 4 squad from Sioux Falls, will provide a substantial test for the defending champs. Last time out, the hot-shooting Raiders held the lead for last 35 minutes and finished with a 97-83 victory on the road.
Sioux Falls is one of the few teams in the country who can hang with Coach Earl Woudstra’s group in three key categories: rebounding, points in the paint, and scoring off the bench. The Cougars create turnovers and pound the ball inside to their post players. Expect them to target sophomore Kendra De Jong and freshman Sam Kleinsasser early on. USF also will try to keep senior Becca Hurley from getting into a shooting rhythm early.
The Cougars just don’t have the perimeter defense it takes to stop the outside threats of Hurley, junior Val Kleinjan and junior Kami Kuhlmann. Though the Raiders may not shoot lights out like last game, expect a Raider win thanks to a lot of scoring and easy baskets created by defensive pressure from their press trap.
On the men’s side, No. 10 NW will be looking for revenge of their 87-80 loss earlier in the year. The Raiders have been playing very well in the second half of the season, and have slowly climbed up the polls. USF, on the other hand, has had to deal with the loss of their top two scorers, seniors Eric Tisby and Matt Malloy, due to a suspension they received from breaking team rules.
The Cougars stumble into town at an unfortunate time, with the team still trying to figure out its identity after losing four-year starter Malloy. They will also miss the 37 points Tisby dropped on the Raiders last time out.
Once again, NW has hit its stride right before tourney time, and the combination of a balanced offensive attack and tough rebounding will be good enough for a Raider win on Senior Night.