Struggling Mesa women get tough tests in Holiday Inn Christmas Classic
A new season begins tonight — at least that’s the way the Mesa State College women’s basketball team would like to look at it.
The Mavericks (3-7) return to action after a short Christmas break by hosting two nationally-ranked teams in the Holiday Inn Christmas Classic the next two days at Brownson Arena.
Mesa State plays No. 4 West Texas A&M (8-1) at 6 tonight after No. 22 Fort Lewis plays Northern State (S.D.) at 4 p.m.
Fort Lewis (9-1) challenges West Texas A&M at noon Monday and Mesa State and Northern State (5-4) play at 2 p.m.
“I hope this is a start of a whole new season,” Mesa State coach Timi Brown said. “Up to this point, I can’t say we’ve had the greatest season yet. I think we needed a little break to regroup. I know I did. We have to play better.”
In most of the Mavericks’ seven losses, they fell behind early and ran out of time in their efforts to make up ground.
“We’re not getting ready to play,” Brown said. “Whether it is the scouting report, game preparation or practice, we’ve got to find a way to prepare to play in the first half. We dig ourselves a huge hole. We’re outscoring teams in the second half. For some reason we’re not there mentally in the first half.
“If we do come out hard, usually that 10-minute mark we start to dwindle. We’re trying to find an identity with our team and the leadership.”
The Mavericks have seen several players produce points — from Stephanie Delgado to Heather Habekost and from Erin Richardson to Alishea Kelly. In fact, six different players have led Mesa in scoring in 10 games.
“That’s exciting in ways because you don’t have the one go-to kid,” Brown said. “On the other hand, it’s frustrating we don’t have consistent performance from people. It makes it difficult to find a rotation. You don’t know who’s going to do what.”
Who’s producing has to a lot to do with who’s shooting the ball well. Other than Delgado and Ashley Davis, who are shooting 55 percent or better, the Mavericks have struggled, shooting 39.2 percent.
“Shooting percentage has been a struggle,” Brown said. “We need to take a higher percentage of shots. Delgado definitely needs more touches. The more of a threat she is in the paint, it will open up the perimeter.
“We’ve got to be tougher physically. We’re getting pushed around too much.”
West Texas A&M and Northern State will likely try to use their size advantage against the undersized Mavericks.
West Texas A&M has six players 6-foot or taller, but is led by 5-foot-9 guard Emily Brister.
She is sixth in the nation, scoring 23.9 points a game.
“(The Buffaloes) are a very well balanced team,” Brown said. “They are a legit No. 4 team in the country. They are probably the best team we’ve brought in for a tournament at least on paper. Texas women’s basketball is very, very good.
“We have a chance if we compete and take their kids out of a comfort zone. If we play intimidated, it will not be a good game.”
Northern State has seven players 6-foot or taller, including 6-foot-6 sophomore Krista Rabenberg. The Wolves are also very young with no seniors and 17 sophomores and freshmen.
“(The Wolves) played a couple common opponents,” Brown said. “We match up better with them. They are fundamentally sound, tough, hard-nosed kids.”
Brown loves the challenge of faces teams like West Texas A&M and Northern State, if for no other reason than to prepare them for RMAC games.
“I like playing tough games after Christmas,” Brown said. “We have one week before we get back into RMAC games and you don’t get any better by playing cupcakes.”