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Preview: Wildcats defense poised to strike again

Sarah Ruiz, Staff Reporter - January 16, 2013

Head coach Shawn Nelson was pleased such a big crowd could cheer the Wildcats on to their first Great Northwest Athletic Conference victory of the season over Western Oregon 60-49 on Saturday night. The Wildcats improved to 6-7 overall and 1-4 in the GNAC and will play Alaska Fairbanks Thursday night at Patty Center.

Nelson, who is in his second year as the Wildcats coach, thought the crowd size for their two home games this past week were the biggest he’s ever seen, and couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I would like to thank those that came out to our game on Thursday and Saturday,” Nelson said. “Those were the biggest two crowds we’ve had since I’ve been a coach here. That was really encouraging, so just thank you to the students and the faculty and everyone that came,” Nelson said.

The Wildcats held Western Oregon to only 17.9 percent shooting in the second half, after they allowed the Wolves to convert 44.4 percent of their field goals during the first half. The Wildcats themselves shot 37 percent and 31 percent in the first and second half, respectively, and out rebounded with 31 on the night.

Freshman guard Hannah Shine led the Wildcats with 14 points and was 4-7 from the three-point range. Shine believes one of the biggest problem for the Wildcats this season has been their shooting, and if they were to fix it like they did against Western Oregon, good things can happen..

“One of the biggest problems is our shots haven’t been falling,” freshman Hannah Shine said. “It would be huge for our offense if it did fall and get in the flow of it. That would help [our] confidence and play loose,” Shine said.

Junior guard Ally Schmitt feels the Wildcats have made a change for the better, and that their relationships off the court has improved their place.

“Before, we kind of just played for ourselves,” Schmitt said. “I feel like we’ve come together. Our practices have changed and come a lot more competitive, so we’ve upped our competitiveness a lot and that’s helped our defense.”

Central will look to continue their good play against AFU, and Nelson believes they’re a solid team that plays hard. The Nanooks only have two wins in the season and are currently winless in the GNAC with a record of 2-11, 0-5.

“After watching them on tape, they are actually a very good basketball team,” Nelson said. “They get up and down the floor extremely well and hit their shots and just play extremely hard. We need to get back on defense, first and foremost. We need to start getting more points from our offense. After getting the conference win, I think we will settle down and start shooting better offensively.”

The Nanooks lead the GNAC in steals, with 155 on the season and a 11.9 average per game. Sophomore Benissa Bulaya is fifth on the conference leaderboards with 30 total and an average of 2.5 per game, while senior Jacqueline Lovato is tied for eighth with Wildcat Leslie Stillar in three-point field goals .

Other than that, the Nanooks fall under the average in most the other statistical categories. The Wildcats however, have several statistical leaders. Junior forward Jessica VanDyke leads the GNAC in three-point field made, while freshman forward Jasmine Parker’s 28 blocks are also a league high. With Stillar and VanDyke’s combined effort, the Wildcats rank second in the GNAC in the three-pointers made and are also second in their defensive rebound percentage.

After Alaska Fairbanks, the Wildcats will then face off against University of Alaska Anchorage on Jan. 19. Nelson judges the Seawolves as a team that is incredibly physical and strong. The Seawolves are currently 8-5 overall and 2-3 in the GNAC, and will look to challenge the Wildcat’s defense, which Nelson believes can be improved.

Nelson credited part of the reason the Wildcats lost three of their four conference games was due to a low number of defensive rebounds. But that changed during their game against Western Oregon, and the Wildcats collected 29 total rebounds after halftime while allowing only 15. Nelson felt the team played tougher on defense and that’s what ultimately led to their victory.

But it was also because the Wildcats have improved their shooting game and are becoming more and more comfortable.

“Our players are getting great shots and we are getting the shots we want,” Nelson said. “I think once [the team] settles in a little bit, we will get those shots and that will help take the pressure off the defense.”

Nelson isn’t worried about the long travel load. He’s more focused on their upcoming opponents and the drawbacks of playing in hostile environment.

“We’re just going to focus on Fairbanks first,” Nelson said. “Anchorage plays really good in Anchorage, but for us we got to go get the first [game] and keep everyone healthy and then go for the next.

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