Beavers looking to protect home court

The Minot State University women’s basketball team is in a three-way tie for last place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division.

If the Beavers (6-5 overall, 2-5 NSIC) want to make their way up the standings, they can start by defending home court.

MSU played five of its first seven conference games away from the MSU Dome, but – beginning with tonight’s 6 o’clock matchup against Upper Iowa – the Beavers play three consecutive contests and seven of their next nine games at home.

“In this league, you’ve gotta hope for a split on the road and you’ve gotta take care of business at home, and we haven’t done either one totally,” MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. “The good thing about this whole rotation is we’ve played five out of our seven division opponents on the road, so five of those have to come back to our place. We really need to buckle down and take care of business at home.”

Upper Iowa (4-10, 1-6) is coming off its first conference victory of the season, an 80-59 win over 1-11 Southwest Minnesota State. Green Gerding said the Peacocks are a perimeter-oriented squad that is solid in its set plays, meaning MSU will have to be sound defensively.

The Peacocks’ best player is Whitney Kieffer, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard who leads the team in points (18.6 per game) and rebounds (7.1) and gets to the foul line an average of 7.4 times per game.

“That’s pretty effective,” Green Gerding said of Kieffer’s ability to get to the charity stripe. “She pretty much plays point guard, brings the ball all the way (upcourt), doesn’t really shoot it – she mostly just penetrates it – but (she’s) hard to keep under control.”

On Saturday, the Beavers play the Winona State Warriors (11-3, 5-2), who are second in the conference with a plus-18.4 winning margin.

WSU leads the league in scoring defense (allowing 50.7 ppg), free-throw percentage (80.4) and 3-point field goal percentage (41.2).

The 3-point percentage is particularly impressive considering the Warriors have attempted 291 treys, which is about 37 percent of their total field-goal attempts. WSU’s chief gunner is Becca Friestleben, who has knocked down 52-of-112 attempts and is the team’s leading scorer at 17.9 points per game.

“You’ve gotta lock in and not give as much weakside help and know (their) personnel, understanding some of the things they’re gonna do to get shots for those kids,” Green Gerding said. “We have to make sure we know how to defend them.”

MSU senior guard Sacarra Molina puts it more simply.

“If we just increase the ball pressure, the shots won’t be there,” she said.

Green Gerding said her team needs to start playing with a greater sense of urgency. Although the conference schedule is only about one-third complete, the Beavers hope to rattle off some wins to position themselves well for the postseason.

“Coach said, ‘We put our backs against the wall,’ and she’s right,” Molina said. “We have to get these home wins to have a chance in the conference tournament.”